Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
autumn in Hudson, Ohio 2018
Malankara World Journal Monthly
Theme: Great Lent Weeks 1 to 5, Parables
Volume 9 No. 511 March 2019

IV. Bible Study: Understanding Parables

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

Jesus said that His purpose for giving parables was not to expand the meaning to people, but to hide the meaning from the people whom He didn't want to understand. Only with the Spirit of God could we really understand the parables. There are certain keys that unlock parables, and if you don't have the keys you're going to miss the meaning, and the interpretation is going to be wrong....

The Parable Of The Leaven, Expanded

Many times what we found in the church is that we have allowed worldly attitudes, ideas, and methods to distort what it means to love one another, to love our neighbor. ...

Parables Of Matthew 13

The author presents an encouraging conclusion to his series on Matthew 13 by describing Christ's work on behalf of the church (Hidden Treasure, Pearl of Great Price, Dragnet) and the work of the ministry (Householder). The church constitutes His treasure, hidden in the world, purchased and redeemed with Christ's blood. ....

Understanding Parables

In the passage before us, Jesus gives us a clue to the function and therefore the interpretation of his kingdom parables. The crowds have failed to respond to a clear presentation of the gospel, so, in an act of judgment, Jesus preaches the gospel in riddles....

Birds, Thorns, and Other Surprising Responses to God’s Word

The biblical passages for this week suggest that the Word of God is an experience. And listening is the key to that experience. ...

IV. Bible Study: Understanding Parables

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

by Richard T. Ritenbaugh

Gospel: Matthew 13


The author insists that the Bible, in both parables and prophecies, interprets itself and remains consistent in its use of symbols. We cannot arbitrarily pull symbols out of the air and attach meaning. The first four parables of Matthew 13 (Sower, Wheat and Tares, Mustard Seed, and Leaven) all describe Satan's plan to destroy the church: (1) attacking at early stages of growth, (2) infiltrating through secret agents, (3) influencing unchecked, unnatural growth going beyond God's ordained limits, inviting worldly and demonic influence, and (4) influencing yielding to sin and false doctrine.

Have you ever found something in the Bible that just really excited you—I mean, where you just could hardly wait to tell somebody about what you found? I've been going through that experience for the last two weeks, and I'm just about ready to explode here. So now I get my chance to tell you my discovery, and by the time that I finish I hope you're as excited as I am, because I really think it just expands your horizons of what's going on.

We're going to look into the first four parables of Matthew 13. We're going to be especially looking at the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parables of the Leaven.

If you recall, when I gave the sermon a couple of years ago on the Song of Songs, I gave you an explanation of what a parable is. I'll quickly review what I said, because I think it's important that we understand right off the bat what it is that we're dealing with. So this is from Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, from Page 840, under the article Parable.

Literally denotes "a placing beside." It signifies a placing of one thing beside another with a view to comparison. It is generally used of a somewhat lengthy utterance or narrative drawn from nature or human circumstances, the subject of which is to set forth a spiritual lesson. It is the lesson that is of value. The hearer must catch the analogy if he is to be instructed. Such a narrative or saying dealing with earthly things with a spiritual meaning is distinct from a fable which attributes to things what does not belong to them in nature. Two dangers are to be avoided in seeking to interpret parables in scripture; 1) that of ignoring the important features, and 2) that of trying to make all the details mean something.

When we went through the Song of Songs we showed that the Song of Songs was indeed a parable, and not all of the details meant something, but it gave a general idea of what was going on. Now the parables of Matthew 13 are much tighter, so we need to pay a little bit better attention to the details, because it makes a whole lot of difference.

You'll see in Matthew 13:10-17 that Jesus explains the purpose of parables. He basically says that His purpose for giving parables was not to expand the meaning to people, but to hide the meaning from the people whom He didn't want to understand. Only with the Spirit of God could we really understand the parables, but He has to give us the understanding. There are certain keys that unlock parables, and if you don't have the keys you're going to miss the meaning, and the interpretation is going to be wrong, or off track.

What we find out from the rest of the Bible is that it takes the Holy Spirit in order for us to have ears to hear. You'll find that running through I Corinthians 2. To understand spiritual things you must have the Spirit of God in your mind—the mind of Christ—that in turn opens up what is in the Bible. Of course the other major key is the book itself, because the interpretation of the parables is within the Bible. It's not necessarily just the context around the parable; rather the entire Bible opens up the parable.

II Peter 1:19-21

We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

Bet you're wondering what I'm doing here. This is a section about prophecy. Well, in a way it is also a section about parables, because parables and prophecies are very similar. It's not the same in certain respects, because parables can be prophetic, and most times I'd say they are. They hold three elements in common and they're very important.

1) Both parables and prophecies employ symbols.

2) As I just mentioned, both parables and prophecies are predictive. Usually the parable shows a spiritual state, and in many cases a prophecy does the same thing, as we've been seeing lately. And,

3) they are both inspired by the Holy Spirit. Because of these three elements in common—employing symbols, being predictive, and being inspired by the Holy Spirit—the principles of interpretation are similar, if not the same. So you would treat a parable the same way you would treat a prophecy.

Now it's from verses like these in II Peter 1 that Mr. Armstrong and others—even in the world—have derived the principle that the Bible interprets itself. It's right there: "Knowing this first, that no prophecy in scripture is of any private interpretation." In other words, the Bible provides the interpretation of its own symbols. The Bible interprets itself.

But let's add a corollary to this principle. It's very important to this sermon.

Malachi 3:6,

"I am the Eternal. I change not. Therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed."

Hebrews 13:8,

"Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever."

James 1:17,

"God is the Giver of all good gifts, and with Him there is no variation or shadow of turning."

What does this mean? What is the common element? God is consistent. God doesn't change.

This quality of God allows us to have faith in Him. If you know that He says "Love is a good thing," then we can have faith that if we treat each other in love, we're doing something good for the other person. So by this principle—that God never changes—we can have confidence and trust in God.

We can rely on what He says, because He doesn't change. If He did, could we ever trust the Bible for anything? Now let's apply this to symbols in prophecy, or in parables. If we saw, for example, the word "star" in Genesis, and we felt it meant, let's say, "a rocket ship" (just to bring something out), then by this same principle "star" should mean a "rocket ship" right through to the end of the Bible. And you know what? It does. I don't mean that it does mean "a rocket ship." What I'm saying is that a symbol in the early part of the Bible retains the same meaning throughout the entire Bible. And if it didn't, how could we be ever sure of what it meant?

The corollary that I'm trying to get at here is that the Bible's interpretation of its symbols is consistent. The Bible interprets itself, and the corollary is its interpretation of symbols is consistent. If it is not, we could never trust what we were seeing.

I can't, at this point, prove this because it would take many sermons to go through every symbol in the Bible and show you that this works; but I believe it does, because the principle of God being consistent, or constant and unchanging is there, and He gave us all the tools we need to interpret the symbols. Now this doesn't mean that a symbol in one place can't have a different shade of meaning, or that the context may give you the exact narrow meaning; but in general, a symbol that is in Genesis will be the same, in its wider application, right on through to Revelation.

Let's just take one symbol—lion. Do you know that in I Peter 5 it stands for Satan? And do you know that in Revelation 5 it stands for Christ? Is that a contradiction? Does the symbol stand for two different things? No. We've interpreted it correctly, but its meaning is consistent. A lion does not stand for Satan. A lion does not stand for Christ. A lion is a ruler. It is a very powerful ruler. It is, very often, a fierce and almost wild ruler. Just think of God's anger and the fury that He pours out. That could seem pretty fierce and wild if you're on the receiving end of it.

Do you see what I'm getting at here? The symbol means a specific thing, and the context tells us, or the description tells us, to whom it applies. We could do the same thing with "stars." That one's kind of interesting, because in Genesis 37, stars stood for "the sons of Jacob." In Revelation 12, just four verses apart, it means both "the sons of Jacob" in one verse and "the angels" in another. But do you know what "stars" really symbolizes? Sons. The angels are "sons of God," the twelve stars are "Jacob's sons"; still the symbol refers to sons.

The context provides a fuller picture of what the symbol means and narrows it in as well. This is important when going through the parables of Matthew 13, because we can't pull symbols out of the air and attach meanings to them. We've got to look at the rest of the Bible to see how they're used throughout.

We need to get an overview of Matthew 13, because we need to understand the whole context and to see what Jesus was trying to get across to us. If you go through Matthew 13, your particular Bible translation may divide the parables into only seven parables. But there are not only seven parables there. There are eight parables in Matthew 13. Usually the eighth one is combined with the seventh one. In a way it follows it, but it is also its own parable. It stands alone.

Now these eight parables are divided into three sections. The first section consists of the first four parables—The Parable of the Sower, The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, The Parable of the Mustard Seed, and The Parable of the Leaven. We'll be concentrating on these four, and specifically the last two. The second section consists of the next three parables: The Parable of the Hidden Treasure, The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, and The Parable of the Dragnet. The third section is the last parable—The Parable of the Householder—who takes out of his treasure house both old and new.

I'm going to give you titles for these three sections so you get the idea of what's happening here in Matthew 13. The first section (the first 4 parables) is titled "Satan's Plan To Destroy The Church." The second section (next 3 parables, parables 5, 6, and 7—Hidden Treasure, Pearl of Great Price, and the Dragnet) is titled "God's Work In Behalf Of The Church." It is what God does to make sure that Satan doesn't destroy the church, and much of that has already done by Him. The third section (the last parable) is titled "The Ministry's Duty To Protect The Church," or "The Ministry's Duty To The Church."

I want to show you the comment that Matthew makes after he goes through the first section. In Matthew 13:34, you'll find an explanation as to why I can say the first four parables are titled "Satan's Plan To Destroy The Church."

Matthew 13:34

All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: "I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world."

What was kept secret from the foundation of the world? Satan's plan to destroy the church.

This applies specifically to what He has just said—to the first four parables. But, it also applies more generally, throughout the parables. What Jesus does is open up things that have been concealed from the foundation of the world. If you go back to Psalm 78:2, you'll notice that it doesn't say, "I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world." Do you know what it says? It says. "I will utter dark sayings of old." That gives you another clue. It means that what has gone before in Matthew 13, is dark. What do you think is dark? What do you think of when you think of something that is dark here? Dark mysteries or, you know, dark things happening? Well, I think of Satanic things, things that are bad, things that are negative.

This gives me a clue that what has just come before is negative, not positive, and these negative things are things that have been hidden from man since the foundation of the world. What happened at the foundation of the world? Adam and Eve sinned. That was the first step in the plan of Satan—"Get them while they're young"—he's been doing the same thing ever since. So Jesus is saying, "Look people, my disciples—this is the plan that you've got to fight against. Understand what's in these parables, and you've got a pretty good idea of what's happening."

Ephesians 6:11-12

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Paul is saying, "Look! We know this. Satan's at work against us."

II Corinthians 2:11

Lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.

How could Paul say that? Because they were revealed in the parables. He knew what Satan was doing, because Jesus had revealed it.

II Corinthians 4:3-4

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. [It sounds like what Jesus said about parables. He had veiled them.] Whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

Satan is keeping them in ignorance so he can take his time working with the church. Those are the ones he's planning to attack.

II Corinthians 11:3

But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

I just mentioned that.

Galatians 4:8-9

But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods [demons]. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?

It sounds like the church in Galatia had allowed Satan to come in. And don't think that it doesn't happen today.

This is a more hopeful scripture:

Colossians 1:13

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.

This sounds a lot like the second section of parables—what God has done for us, so that we'll be safe.

I Timothy 4:1

Now the spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.

Put that back in your head somewhere. That'll come up.

I Timothy 5:15

For some have already turned aside after Satan.

Paul knew all these things because they had been revealed, and he, I'm sure, was teaching this to the church.

Before we go any further, there's one more thing that we need to go over, and that is Jesus' use of the words "Kingdom of Heaven." He uses that throughout this chapter—"The Kingdom of Heaven is like..." Don't be fooled by this. Don't think that it means "the Kingdom of God when Jesus Christ returns." That is a trap, because that's not what He meant.

You've got to remember, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, is not just a future thing. It is a present reality. It is not on earth right now as a government, in the form of a nation or a kingdom, but the Kingdom of God exists. Now, how do I know this? We have just read in Colossians 1:13 that we've already been translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love. That word "translated" is better translated as "transferred." I think we've kind of steered away from this idea that the Kingdom of God is a present reality because of the Protestant idea of "the Kingdom of God is within you." But there's something to that. It's not correct that the Kingdom of God is within you, in the way the Protestants have misapplied that; but the Kingdom of God does exist.

Matthew 12:28

But if I cast out demons by the spirit of God, surely the Kingdom of God has come upon you.

It was present then, and working.

Mark 12:34

So when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God." And after that no one dared question Him.

In Luke 10, I want you to see that Jesus uses this term in a present tense situation. The Kingdom of Heaven is something that happens now, or can happen now. He's talking to His disciples and telling them what they're to do when they go out.

Luke 10:9

And heal the sick who are there, and say to them, The Kingdom of God has come near to you.

It sounds like what He said to the scribe back there.

Luke 17:21

Nor will they say, See here! Or See there! For indeed the Kingdom of God is among [as it should be better translated] you.

These examples show that Jesus taught His disciples that the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven exists now, but it's in a different form from what it will be when Jesus returns and sets up His government. When we yield to God, and when we are accepted as His sons and daughters, we become citizens of the Kingdom of God. Now in a sense, we all are in the Kingdom of God now.

Don't get me wrong. We are shooting for that future reality when Jesus Christ comes back and sets His throne upon this earth—when all people will, hopefully, stream to Jerusalem. That's what the entire Bible looks forward to, but there is a present reality within His sons and daughters. What about the following scriptures given by Paul: "Our citizenship is in heaven"; "We are ambassadors for Christ" (Ambassadors means your allegiance is to some other country.); "We are aliens and pilgrims in a foreign land."

Our land is the Kingdom of God. This land is an alien nation. In true members of God's church, the Kingdom of God is already ruling in them, and that's what Jesus means.

In fact, some scholars want to throw out the word Kingdom as it is used in this way. They say that they feel that this is a misleading translation. Of course most of them are Protestants and they are looking at it with the concept that "the Kingdom of God is within you."

But think of the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, in Matthew 13, in this sense—as the realm of God, or the realm of heaven, or the dominion of God, or the reign of God. He is already our King. He is reigning over us right now. Here is a word that we should all be familiar with—the sovereignty of God.

Have you come under the sovereignty of God? You bet ya! You voluntarily did. So in that sense, you are in the Kingdom of God, and its rules apply. That's what Jesus means in Matthew 13. He's not doing away with the idea that He will return to this earth and set up His government here (after putting down all other government's rule), but He is saying, "You that I have called out, are in the Kingdom of Heaven, now—in this spiritual sense—and you have to play by its rules, and you have to fight its enemies, which are legions! So beware! "

The Parable of the Sower and the Seed

I'm not going to read The Parable of the Sower and the Seed. You probably all know it. You know that the man went out sowing, and some seed fell here and some seed fell there. Then, thankfully, Jesus gives us the interpretation, starting in verse 18. We don't have to guess about what these things mean. It's very clear how He interpreted this prophecy, and it ends on a good note, because there are some on whom the seed falls on, and it's very good ground, and they produce like gangbusters, and it's great. There are a few not-so-good things that happen before that.

Matthew 13:19-21

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. [The next one receives the seed on stony places, and Jesus says:] But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy: yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. Then persecution or tribulation arises, and he stumbles.

The next one receives seed among thorns and, maybe, hears the word. But the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and all those things choke him out, and he stumbles; he leaves.

Then of course there is the good stuff. So there is a mixture of positive and negative in this parable. Jesus clearly says, in verse 19, that the seed is "the word of the kingdom." It's what He plants in you and me to draw us out of this world and is what gives us an opportunity for salvation. That's very clear. This is the truth; the knowledge of God; the gospel; the whole counsel of God—however you want to put it. That's easy to see.

But the birds—now, that's kind of interesting.

Matthew 13:4

And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.

It doesn't sound very good—that the birds would eat the seed. Do you know that "birds of the air" are a negative symbol? Look in verse 19. Instead of saying "birds of the air," He says "the wicked one" comes and devours that seed. Do you know what Mark says? Mark uses the word "Satan." He gets right down to it. Very clear. Luke says "the Devil."

I want you to take a look at Genesis 15:11, to prove my point from earlier. This is where Abraham was making a covenant with God.

Genesis 15:11

And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

What were the vultures doing? They were interfering between God and man. They were trying to defile Abraham's sacrifice. Get it? A slightly different context is used in Deuteronomy 28, the Blessings and the Cursings section. Let's look at verse 26. This is a curse:

Deuteronomy 28:26

Your carcasses shall be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and no one shall frighten them away.

No Abraham around. "Birds of the air" is a negative symbol. Now to the back of the book. We're going from Genesis to Revelation here. This really nails it down.

Revelation 18:2

And he [this angel] cried mightily with a loud voice, saying Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a habitation of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!

Guess what the "birds of the air" are? Demons! They come and try to get you when you're young in the church. Like the lion of I Peter 5, they go for the stragglers and the weak and the newborn, because they're the easy pickings. So, what is step one of Satan's plan against the church? Attack God's people early in their calling. Distract them. Persecute them. Crush them. That's the plan of Step 1. Attack God's people early in their calling. Distract, persecute, and crush them.

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares

We won't read The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares either. This one's clear as well, but it does have a few symbols that we need to look at.

Matthew 13:37

He answered and said to them: He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.

So who is the sower? Christ. God calls (as it says in John 6:44), but He draws them to Christ. He's the One, the agent by whom the sowing is done. Very clear. No problem with that.

Matthew 13:38

The field is the world.

No qualification on that—"The field is the world." He doesn't make any other comment and He's very consistent with this.

Now we get to "seed" again. Jesus calls them "the good seed," and He says in verse 38 that the good seed are the sons of the kingdom. But isn't this a contradiction of what He said in the first parable—that the seed was the word of God, or the knowledge of God? No. That's because the word "seed" has been modified in both of these occasions. Think about it. What is a seed? You've got an apple tree, and an apple tree produces apples, and in the middle of an apple is a bunch of little seeds.

What does the seed do? Well, the seed is the means by which an apple tree reproduces itself. It is the means by which the tree expands its domain, let's say. I'm going back and forth between kingdom and an apple tree to help you to understand the analogy here. Now, in the parables Jesus gives them their narrow meanings. He says, "the seed is the word" AND He says, "the seed is the sons of the kingdom." This is not a contradiction. The overall meaning is the same. The seed is the product of the plant, and the seed is the means by which the plant is reproduced. Now with this meaning, the meaning of seed fits both the word of God, and it also fits the sons of God, because both the word and the sons are means by which the kingdom grows, expands, and reproduces.

So in this particular occasion, the good seed is the members of God's church, and the members of God's church—you and me—are the means by which the kingdom is going to grow throughout this whole earth. We're just the kernel, the start, the little "itty bit" that God starts with.

Now the enemy, He says very plainly here in verse 39, is the Devil. He's sneaking in again. He has to be there somewhere. So this parable has its negative aspects too.

Let's go to the tares. Look at verse 38 again. "The tares are the sons of the wicked one." Did you know that Satan has sons too? Are you familiar with John 8:44? Jesus tells the people that are listening to Him, "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, ..." and so on. So, he has sons. We didn't look at II Corinthians 11 before. We kind of went past it.

II Corinthians 11:13-15

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

He not only has sons, he's got servants and apostles and ministers. What does the parable say in Matthew 13? It says that Satan has secret agents. He's got spies, he's got moles, and he's got plants right in the church! We just saw them—ministers, apostles, servants; sons—right smack-dab amongst us, and they're so cleverly disguised (says this parable) that we can't tell the difference between them and true Christians. And you know what? They're so well disguised that they don't even know who they are!

They look converted, they talk converted, and they seem so pure and righteous many times. He just told us so, there in II Corinthians 11—they transform themselves into ministers of righteousness. They look so good, they say the right things, they serve, and they teach, just like the good seed. But, Oh, they are evil! They're sneaky.

These evil enemy agents, as good as they look, work to destroy the good seed after that initial period covered in The Parable of the Tares. If Satan doesn't get you right off, He's got his plants to try to dissuade you from the right way, while you're in church, in your own neighborhood, when you're feeling relaxed and amongst friends and brethren. Jesus tells His angels (His servants, or His messengers) in the parable here, just to leave them there until harvest time. And He says elsewhere that those agents help to prove who the true ones are. So if you can stand up to the secret agents, you're doing a pretty good job.

This one ends with happy notes too. It says in verse 43, "The righteous [the ones that get through these enemy agents] will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"

So Step 2 of Satan's plan to destroy the church is: Send secret agents to infiltrate the church. Remember, number 1 was to attack God's people early. Number 2 is to send secret agents to infiltrate the church.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:31-32

Another parable He put forth to them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.

Now you probably know what the common interpretation of the mustard seed parable is.

It goes like this, just in case you aren't aware: The mustard seed represents the Kingdom of God, which begins tiny, and then, over a process of time, expands or grows into a worldwide system and becomes the home for many nations or many people and they dwell there in peace and safety and harmony.

Well, this looks good and true on the surface, but after analyzing the symbols, I think you're going to see that this is wrong. It doesn't hold water. Now verse 31 is very clear. As far as I studied, everyone agrees that the man—the sower—is Jesus Christ. We saw that in The Parable of the Tares. That's very true.

The field again is the world. That's very true too. Didn't He pull you out of the world? He pulled me out of the world.

But, the "mustard seed" is a little bit more controversial. Remember what we just learned in The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. What is a seed? A seed is the means by which a plant grows or expands or reproduces itself. Now, answer this: Can the kingdom of God grow, expand?

It doesn't make a lot of sense to say that the Kingdom of God grows by means of the Kingdom of God. If the mustard seed is the Kingdom of God, how does it grow by itself? Do you understand what I'm getting at?

The mustard seed is not the Kingdom of God. It's another agent of the Kingdom of God, at work to make the Kingdom of God grow and expand. Notice it doesn't say, "The Kingdom of God is a mustard seed," it says, "it's like a mustard seed." It's an analogy. The correlation is not exact. The comparison between "the mustard seed" and the "Kingdom of God" is not so close as to be exact—if you know what I mean. The mustard seed is not the Kingdom of God.

What is the mustard plant? In the Greek, it's sinapi. It's just a common word for mustard. We have black mustard that grows all across America. I can't remember the Latin name, but that's its common name—black mustard—and it's used to make the mustard that you put on your hot dogs and hamburgers and things. That's what mustard is.

Now let's understand a little bit about the mustard plant. Normally the mustard plant grows to be about four to six feet tall. And it has spindly branches. But, it's not a mustard tree; it's a mustard plant. But understand that a mustard plant, if it's in a perfect spot with perfect nutrients, perfect light, perfect everything, has been found to grow up to about fifteen feet (5 meters) tall. That's pretty good. That's taller than most ceilings, by quite a bit. But now tell me something. If it grows to fifteen feet, does the mustard plant become a tree? No. The mustard plant is always a shrub.

Just because it is fifteen feet tall doesn't make it a tree, does it? Does it have a big trunk and large branches? I just told you that it has spindly branches, and most of the time it doesn't grow past six feet.

Of course we know about the mustard seed. This is one thing that people always pull out of this parable of the mustard seed—that it is among the smallest of cultivated seeds. Well that's good, and it's smallness then is really our only clue as to what this parable is teaching us at this point. The mustard seed represents something small that does its part in expanding God's Kingdom. What could it be? What's so small that helps to expand God's kingdom?

Matthew 7:13-14

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

I tell you, Jesus explains His own symbols.

Matthew 20:16

So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.

Are you starting to get some clues here? In Luke 10:2, He's sending the seventy out.

Luke 10:2

Then He said to them, The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.

Luke 12:31-32

But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Just before the day of Pentecost in 31 AD.

Acts 1:15

And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty).

Whoop-dee-do! Not too many for three and one-half year's work—little flock.

Romans 9:27

Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: 'Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved.

Consider the little "itty bit" that Ezekiel stuck in his pocket, and he took some of them out and burned them in the fire too.

Romans 9:29

And as Isaiah said before: "Unless the LORD of Sabaoth had left us a seed [a little itty bit, like a mustard seed], we would have become like Sodom, and we would have been made like Gomorrah."

Utterly destroyed!

Romans 11:2-5

God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew, Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, "LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life"? But what does the divine response say to him? "I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." Even so then, [Paul says] at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

I think that's enough. We could have also gone to I Corinthians 1:26-29 where it says that God called the weak of the world and the base of the world to put to shame the mighty and the noble and all those. What, then, is the mustard seed? Simple. His church. The few, the small, the weak, and the base. Hopefully we're not the proud or the Marines. He's talking about those who voluntarily submitted to God's dominion, and they are absolutely few indeed at this point in time—compared with fifty billion people who have lived on this earth.

Now for the second verse in this parable—back to Matthew 13, with the understanding of who the mustard seed is. This is where the traditional interpretation goes off track. Jesus' explanation that the mustard seed is very small (you'll notice that's the first clause here)—"which indeed is the least of all the seeds," should, at best, be put into parentheses because I think it makes everything easier to interpret. It describes the size and the strength of the church. You might want to read Deuteronomy 7:7.

I could have gone to this one too, where God tells Israel, "Look guys, I didn't choose you because you were the greatest of people, because you were the least of all people. I called you because I loved you, He says, and because I had sworn to the fathers that I would do this." Jesus is, in a way, paraphrasing what He said there in Deuteronomy 7:7. Now the "it" in the next clause, "but when it is grown,"—refers back to the mustard seed that the sower sowed in the field. It's not talking about all mustard seed, it's talking about the particular mustard seed that the sower sowed.

When it reaches maturity, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree. What's going on here? How did a mustard plant become a tree? That's the point! Jesus, the Creator, knew His botany! He knew because He had put it there. A mustard plant stays a mustard plant throughout its entire life! It can never become a tree. That's the point! Something went wrong!

The mustard plant did something unnatural. The mustard plant went beyond its God-designed limit. Get that! That's important. The mustard seed—the church—went beyond its God-designed limit. You notice the word "but" in there, right after the parenthetical statement—"(which indeed is the least of all the seeds)"—"But," Jesus says, "it's grown into a tree." The "but" means something is wrong here. It's a contrasting statement.

Luke 13:19 has the same parable and he says that it grew and became a large tree. Fifteen feet does not a large tree make. You've got trees around the world that grow a hundred feet tall! Look at those Redwoods out there in California. That is a large tree! A mustard plant, at fifteen feet, will never be a large tree, even if it was a tree. Those people must have been scratching their heads saying, "This guy's crazy. He knows a mustard plant isn't a tree."

The point is something's gone wrong. God designed His plant—the vine, the church (whatever you want to call it) to grow into an average sized shrub, to be the salt of the earth, the spice of the earth. But something happened to make it burst through the limit that He set on it.

That word "became" means transformed into, or changed into, or turned into. It means, "Abracadabra, you're no longer a mustard plant—you're a mustard tree!" It's like a rabbit becoming a lion. It doesn't happen naturally. I think I've worn this one into the ground. You know what I'm saying. Something went wrong. It not only changed species, it changed families. It went from shrub, which is one family, to tree, which is another family.

Okay, how do I know this is correct? Because the next clause tells me that I'm right. Guess who shows up? The birds of the air come and nest in its branches. Who did we say the birds of the air were? The demons. In this unnatural, gross tree, the demons are at home!

Do you know what it says about that word "nest"? It means they come and pitch a tent. The demons are welcome in this church. That's bad. This is a negative parable through and through. What has gone wrong? Read Daniel 4:19-27. This is Nebuchadnezzar's tree, and the birds come and dwell in its branches, and the beasts of the earth (also Deuteronomy 28:26). It's a curse on the earth, and what does God have to do to Nebuchadnezzar? Humble him. "Chop the tree down!" Scary, isn't it—because this tree is God's church, but it has ceased to be God's church because it has grown outside its God-designed natural bound.

It has embraced Babylon. It has taken on the false system with its false doctrine. This is scary. This not only shows the rise of the great false church, but it shows the tendency of the church, at all times, to become large, great, and worldly. And God says, "You'd better not. If you do, it is no longer Mine. I will cut it down." It's warning enough for me. Don't grow big. Don't try to do it all. Step 3 of Satan's plan: Influence the church to become large, strong, and worldly.

I should have gone into the Parable of the Leaven, but I will leave that to my next sermon. I hope that I've given you a lot to think about. Maybe you can study into The Parable of the Leaven, using some of the principles that I've taught you today, and figure out what the leaven is and what that parable means.

© 1995 CGG

The Parable Of The Leaven, Expanded

by Richard T. Ritenbaugh

Gospel: Mathew 13

Love of the Brethren Corrupted


The author, citing Francis Shaeffer's observation, that bitterness rather than doctrine divides and estranges one member from of Christ's Body from another, suggests that individuals often look for a 'doctrinal' reason to cover up the real reason for leaving a congregation. Perhaps the principal cause of the estrangement between brethren can be explained by the Parable of the Leaven in Matthew 13:33, an image of a process of exaggerated growth, parallel to the mustard see analogy, in which a garden plant unnaturally grows into an imposing tree.

Although many Bible Commentaries have assumed that both of these similes simply mean what started small will grow to something large, they fail to take into account the necessity of symbols remaining consistent beginning with the first mention in scripture. Leaven symbolizes corruption from sin, even as we examine the wave loaves, composed of humans laden from sin (from which they have repented). As ambassadors for Christ, already having our citizenship in Heaven, we still have sin in our nature.

Interestingly, the grain offering in Leviticus 3, designated for the peace offering or fellowship offering did not contain leaven. As a biblical symbol, leaven stands for hypocrisy, false teachings, sexual immorality, vile corruption, malice and wickedness, a condition which will not exist in God's Kingdom, but is rampant in the Church of God today as it syncretizes doctrine with 'knowledge' derived from the Babylonic worldly philosophies.

The woman sneaking in the leaven with three measures of meal in Matthew 13 evidently represents the Church, who surreptitiously mixed Christ's pure doctrine with a little sourdough of worldly wisdom, puffing up the church with intellectual vanity, but destroying the prospects of unity or reconciliation between the numerous splinter groups. With this leavening, Satan has destroyed the relationship between church members by corrupting the doctrines that had bound us together.

The theologian Francis Schaeffer, in his essay “The Mark of the Christian,” writes of a condition that, over my years in the church and in the ministry, I have come to agree with. Here is his quote:

I have observed one thing among true Christians in their differences in many countries: What divides and severs true Christian groups and Christians—what leaves a bitterness that can last for 20, 30, or 40 years (or for 50 or 60 years in a son’s or daughter’s memory)—is not the issue of doctrine or belief which caused the differences in the first place. Invariably, it is a lack of love—and the bitter things that are said by true Christians in the midst of differences. These stick in the mind like glue. And after time passes and the differences between the Christians or the groups appear less than they did, there are still those bitter, bitter things we said in the midst of what we thought was a good and sufficient objective discussion. It is these things—the unloving attitudes and words—that cause the stench that the world can smell in the church of Jesus Christ among those who are really true Christians.

I do not want to minimize doctrinal differences as the things that divide us because they do play a part in some of the splits (notice I said ‘some’ of the splits, not ‘all’ the splits). So I take it for granted that often doctrinal differences are at play.

But far too often, I have found that people do it the other way around: They look for a doctrinal excuse to cover their real reason for leaving a congregation. Instead of applying patience, forbearance, mercy, and forgiveness (and also applying the scriptural instructions on how to recover a relationship, how to reconcile), they leave in a huff, relationship problems unresolved, citing some doctrinal point or another, and they are out the door.

Now, why? Why do they do this?
I am sure there are many reasons why people do this.

Fear: They fear to reconcile with the other person.

Frustration. They are frustrated and they just want it to end.

Impatience. They are impatient, they do not want to deal with it anymore, and they just want out.

Pride. This is a big one. They do not want to admit that actually they were in the wrong.

Stubbornness—they are going to stand their ground till the earth comes crashing down around them—and many other things.

That is just a few that I took off the top of my head. But when you peel back all of these various attitudes, what it shows ultimately is the lack of love—that one or both (oftentimes it is both) parties in this problem, that is affecting members of the church, do not love each other. They are not showing the love of God toward each other.

They are repudiating the second great commandment that Jesus gave us in Matthew 22: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” So the person who leaves the church in this way fails to give reconciliation a chance. This puts him in a very, very dangerous position before God. Let us see that in Matthew 5. We are going to read verses 21 through 26.

This is, of course, in the Sermon on the Mount. I want you to notice that this is one of the first things that Jesus begins to explain after He has talked about the Beatitudes. After He has confirmed the law’s place, it actually says “Hey, in the Christian church, we have to be more righteous than the Pharisees who kept it in the letter—we have to keep it in the Spirit.” And so He starts in at this point.

Matthew 5:21-24

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder,’ and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire [of Gehenna fire—of the grave, of the pit, and it goes probably beyond that too]. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you [there is a problem between him and you that is unresolved], leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift [to God].

“Because that problem between you and your brother is making a problem between you and God. So go reconcile,” He says.

Matthew 5:25-26

Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him [while you are going along through life with him], lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you are thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

What is Jesus saying here? If you have an enemy—an adversary in the church here—God is not going to intervene in mercy on your behalf until you have either reconciled with that brother or you have paid the full cost. Pretty serious warnings here. What He is saying here is that harmony among the brethren, the members of the church, is vital to its health. We have to be one with one another. We are supposed to be one body.

Psalm 133:1

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity [and then he goes and talks about how refreshing that is, and how good it is, and how pleased with it that God is].

But we can only be in harmony if we have become reconciled one to another, through the love of God and in the unity of the Spirit, to be a smoothly functioning body of Christ. He charges us here be reconciled to a brother that either you have offended or he has offended you, and to quickly agree with an adversary (make up, submit, whatever you have to do) to make sure that the problem goes away. Otherwise God will not accept our offerings or intervene in mercy for trouble that we bring on ourselves. Pretty stern words. Let us go to I John 4 where we find some more stern words.

I John 4:20-21

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar [he is a liar to himself; he is a liar before God]; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

You cannot separate the love of God from the love of our fellow man, and especially those fellow men that are in the church of God. John says here that just does not work—it is an impossibility—because we show the love of God right in the here and now in the way we interact with one another. So the proof is in the pudding of our love for one another that we have the love of God in us, that the love of God is truly poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5, one of those memory verses). But let us look here in I John 2.

I John 2:7

Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. . .

This has been around for a long time, folks. It may seem like a new commandment, but it is not. It is an old commandment.

I John 2:7-11

. . .The old commandment is the word which you heard from the [very] beginning. [It has always been part of God’s teaching—what is it?] Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

Of course, that whole section there that I just read is prefaced in verse 6 by “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” And He said He loves us—He loves us to the end.

If we do not love truly our brethren whom we see every week (sometimes more than every week), we are shouting out that we have been overtaken by the darkness of Satan and this evil world. That is what it says: “he who hates his brother is in darkness” until now. And then, in verse 11, it says, as John puts it here, we are stumbling about aimlessly in the dark and will come to no good end (“does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes”). That is pretty scary.

This is a major problem in the church at any time, and I think it is probably going to be especially bad in the time of the end (which time we believe we are living in). We do not love each other as Jesus commanded us to do. You may want to look that up in John 15:12 and 17, where He says it twice “Love one another as I have loved you.”

That is an incredibly high standard! We cannot even begin to think that we are going to reach that in this life. But we must be trying, we must be pursuing that perfect love that He has for us. But we find that many times we fail to reconcile ourselves one to another. We may think we do, but we do not do it according to the biblical precepts.

Many times what we found in the church is that we have allowed worldly attitudes, ideas, and methods to distort what it means to love one another, to love our neighbor. And once we do this, once we bring in these outside influences—that worldly wisdom that is out there—it hampers our ability to have right and godly relationships with each other.

This is a very serious problem within the church of God. It is, in a large part, the reason why there are so many churches, so many groups. Because people just cannot get along with one another—their own brethren—in the church. It is sad and I am sure God is not happy with the situation.

Now, with that introduction, we are going to today look at one of Jesus’ parables that actually prophesies this very problem in the church. This is the Parable of the Leaven in Matthew 13:33 and we see that Jesus warns us that Satan will attack the church on this very point—on our relationships with one another. Sadly, within the last words of that parable, Jesus tells us that the devil’s sneaky assault will succeed. It will be very successful.

But first, before we go into all that, I have a few things that I need to get out of the way here. Many of you were around in 1997 when I gave a series of sermons on the parables of Matthew 13. I am not going to revisit that whole series but I do want to get this one parable, kind of in a revised way, over to you again today. So much of the information that was in that earlier sermon will be repeated here, but hopefully my point will be a little bit more meaningful.

I am not going to take the time today to go over the principles of interpreting parables that I did during that series that took a major chunk of at least one of those sermons.

But before we go into the parable, we should briefly explore Jesus’ use of the term ‘kingdom of heaven’ as He uses it in Matthew 13, because it is necessary for us to understand His meaning here in order to interpret these parables properly.

He begins to use this in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares: “The kingdom of heaven is like. . .” He also says it in the next one, the Parable of the Mustard Seed: “The kingdom of heaven is like. . .” Same in the Parable of the Leaven in verse 33: “The kingdom of heaven is like. . .”

He says it again in the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, and the Parable of the Dragnet.

So all but the Parable of the Tares in this chapter (and the final one, the householder) have, as a beginning to it, “The kingdom of heaven is like. . .” It is clear that most of these parables are what would they call ‘Kingdom Parables.’

Now what does He mean by ‘kingdom’? At times, kingdom is a misleading translation of this Greek word ‘basileia.’ It can have the sense of a king’s realm—the actual land and territory that he is ruling over. It could also have the sense of his reign—the length of his reign, the whole amount of his reign (the reign of Queen Elizabeth II has been over 60 years). It can also mean his sovereign power or his sovereignty. So it is not necessarily about his kingdom, but his authority and what he has power over.

To me, the words ‘dominion’ and ‘domain’ set the proper tone in this particular set of parables, specifically the fact that the domain of God right now is expanding, that it is not just a specific thing but it is actually growing—it is growing with the growth of the church. A lot of the parables that we see in Matthew 13 are about growth.

The Parable of the Sower and Seed is about individual members and their growth.

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares talks about the whole growth of the church, but the enemy has put tares in with it and they are causing problems.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed also has to do with growth. But this is growth, as I explained in those sermons, that is growing out of bounds to where it actually transforms this little herb (a mustard) into a great tree and the tree then becomes home to all kinds of birds which, in the parables here, is very clearly Satan and his demons.

Then of course, in the Parable of the Leaven, we know that it is an expansion of the church that is also mentioned there. And so forth.

We need to understand that Jesus is saying that when He leaves (when He is resurrected and ascends to heaven), He will begin His church, and it begins with the apostles and those few members that were with them, and then immediately it begins to grow and to expand. There were 3000 people on the first Pentecost that asked for baptism, and then it grew another 5000, and then it was just taking over the whole earth. These apostles were turning the world outside down, it was said of them. So there was great expansion of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven—those over whom God was ruling at that time.

Now I do not want to say that the kingdom is not coming with Jesus’ return. Obviously, it is. That is how we tend to think of it—as a future reality, that Christ will return and He will establish His government on the earth. That is true, very true.

However, this is a very important scripture to me in terms of Jesus’ understanding of the kingdom of heaven in this particular area of scripture (Matthew 13). Colossians 1:13 informs us that Christians have already been translated (or conveyed, transferred) “into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” Once we are accepted by Jesus Christ, once we accept His blood as covering us, and we believe and turn to Him and we give ourselves to Him, then we have become spiritually part of that Kingdom.

Paul says our citizenship is in heaven. It is already there. Our names have been put on the rolls of the Kingdom of God, as it were. He says we are ambassadors for Christ. We are the ones that go out from Him as representatives. So when we yield to God and are accepted as His sons and daughters, we come under the dominion of the Kingdom of God. We voluntarily become a citizen or a subject of the Kingdom of God.

As I said, Christians are spiritually part of the kingdom of heaven now. We could even go so far as to say that we (meaning the church of God), as individuals and as a whole (as an organism, as the body of Christ), are its present domain. That is what comprises the kingdom of heaven at this time because this is where Christ rules as the King.

So, yes, Christ will establish His government in what we might call a physical form over the whole earth at His return, and then it will really start getting big and cover the whole earth. But, to true Christians, the kingdom of heaven is already ruling over them. So, in its sense, in Matthew 13, what Jesus is trying to get across here is that when He says “The kingdom of heaven is like. . .” He is saying essentially “The church throughout this age is like. . .” It is kind of synonymous with the church.

At this point, when we are looking at it, whatever it is that Jesus rules over is what the kingdom of heaven is. Its application, for us, is now in the church.

Matthew 13 where we have the Parable of the Leaven. It is also found in Luke 13:20-21 but we are going to stay here.

Matthew 13:33

Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”

Very simple. What is it there—five lines of text? There is seemingly not much there. But it is so full of teaching and it is incredible that Jesus can pack so much into a few words.

The other day, just to make sure, I went over about forty different commentaries just to see their ideas on this particular parable. Most commentators interpret this parable just like they do the Parable of the Mustard Seed. And what they say is they are twin parables just using different illustrations. Basically, the interpretation is that the Kingdom starts small and eventually fills the whole earth and that is it. That is basically what they say.

But once we begin to examine the symbols (I am talking about leaven, woman; some of the things she does like, took and hid; and the three measures of meal), this interpretation not only becomes doubtful, it becomes impossible, to my mind. It just cannot be that the Kingdom grows and eventually covers the whole earth. That is way too simplistic and ignoring the wording that Jesus Christ gave us; and He is the one who said in three different places “You shall live by every word of God.”

Let us start looking over these symbols here. The first one we come across after ‘kingdom of heaven’ (which has been already explained as meaning the church in this age) is ‘leaven.’ It is a comparison here. He is not saying the church is leaven or the Kingdom of God is leaven. He is just saying that it is like leaven. He is making a comparison laying two things side by side so we can get a comparison.

Here is the kingdom of heaven—the church—but this is like this other thing (the situation that we see explained in the rest of the parable) and we are supposed to see the similarities here—the reality of the kingdom of heaven and this imaginary story that He is giving us instruction through.

Now when He said “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven” the Jews must have gone “Ugh…what are you saying? How can that be? We have the pure kingdom of heaven, or the Kingdom of God, and this Jesus—this radical, this rabble-rouser—is saying that it is like leaven? Leaven is bad! Leaven is not a good thing. How can that be?”

Because throughout the Old Testament (which those people knew pretty well) leaven is the symbol of the corruption of sin. They knew that. That is why they had to take leavening out of their homes every year during the Days of Unleavened Bread. They knew about the sacrifices (we will find out a little bit more about them later), but they were not supposed to be made with leaven either. They knew that. They knew what leaven does: Leaven puffs up. So how can the heavenly have anything to do with leavening, with the corruption of sin?

I am sure it immediately struck a discordant note in their minds. And that was the point. Jesus wanted to shock them, just as He had wanted to shock them in the Parable of the Mustard Seed, by giving them something that, in that one, was impossible. How can a mustard seed grow up to be a tree? Well, in this case it is ‘How can the kingdom of heaven become compared to leaven—something pure being compared to something that is corrupt?’ And it is true.

Everywhere in Scripture, Old Testament and New Testament alike, leaven is a negative symbol. Even in those verses certain offerings contained leaven. There are a couple of offerings that contained leaven. There is one part of the peace offering that had leaven. And of course, there is the wave loaves of the firstfruits that are given on the day of Pentecost that also contained leaven. But in both of those cases, leavening is talking about human sin.

Human sin is involved in the peace offering. It is the offerer—the priest—and God sharing a common meal. And guess what, the offerer has sin! The priest is sinful. If we are talking about Jesus Christ, of course He is unleavened. But we are talking about a regular priest. We are talking about a human that has leaven—sin—in him. But even in those cases, leaven symbolizes sin.

It is only here in the entire Bible that any of the commentators say that leaven is a positive symbol—because they just cannot go beyond this astonishment that Jesus Christ would somehow compare the kingdom of heaven to leaven. Well, He is, because He is not talking about the perfect reality that resides in heaven now. He is talking about the situation as it is on earth with human people. He is ruling over them but they are not perfect, not by a long shot. So leaven in the church is not really that odd because we are still people—sinful people.

So if it is something positive and the rest of the Bible uses leaven as negative, then our interpretation must be wrong. That is what I came up with when I originally saw this. This cannot be a positive symbol because God is consistent. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It says, in Malachi 3:6, “I change not. Therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed.”

The symbols are going to be consistent here. If we are going to prove Scripture by scripture—if we are going to interpret Scripture by other parts of Scripture—then the symbol has to be the same, has to be consistent. If it is going to be negative in all the other places in the Bible, it has to be negative here. So leaven is a negative symbol and it stands just for the thing that everywhere else says what it stands for, which is sin.

Let us go to Matthew 16. Jesus Christ is so good to us, He gives us the interpretation of these symbols, right in the context, just three chapters over.

Matthew 16:5-6

And when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” [and then they go on “What is He talking about? What does He mean?”]

Matthew 16:11-12

“How is it you do not understand” [Jesus says] “that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread [you sometimes think the disciples were rather thick at times], but of the doctrine [the teaching] of the Pharisees and Sadducees [which was not good; they were leading people astray through false teaching, false doctrines].

So leaven, as Jesus uses it here, is teaching that you do not want to listen to, that you want to beware of. Let us go to Luke 12 and we will see He uses it just slightly differently. But, at base, it is the same thing.

Luke 12:1

In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, He began to say to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

He is using a different word here, ‘hypocrisy’ rather than “teaching of the scribes and the Pharisees” but it is the same thing because they taught one thing and they did another. They were giving, what would you call, a two-toned witness as it were—and do one thing that was showing one way and the other one was going another way. But in both cases—the false teaching and the hypocrisy—it is sin. It is the corruption of sin that is being talked about here.

Let us go to I Corinthians 5. We go over these scriptures just about every year during the Days of Unleavened Bread. He talks, in verse 1, about the sexual immorality that was going there.

I Corinthians 5:2-6

And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged, as though I were present, concerning him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus [because we are talking about a terrible sin here]. Your glorying is not good [he says]. . . .

Because they were trying to cover over all of this with love, love, love and it was not working because this man’s sin was dividing the congregation and they were getting big, puffy heads full of pride about how good they were, and how kind they were, and how tolerant they were, and it was not a good thing.

I Corinthians 5:6-7

 . .Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump [which is a principle that fits in with Matthew 13:33]? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.

We have been forgiven of our sins and we are clean. We should be unleavened. But sin still comes in and infects us, does it not? In order to be clean once again, we have to not only ask for forgiveness but we have to repent—we have to purge out that old leaven, get rid of it, so it does not hurt us anymore.

I Corinthians 5:8

Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven [notice how he talks about it here; he defines it here for us] of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

So we have three different interpretations, or usages, of leaven.

First, Jesus uses it as false teaching, false doctrine; then He uses it as hypocrisy; and then Paul uses it as malice and wickedness. It just comes down to that what they are talking about is sin, like an infectious disease, corrupting people (us, the church). Leaven is pretty simple to understand.

So we are saying that the kingdom of heaven—the Kingdom of God (or, as we have understood it here, the church in its present in history)—contains leaven, contains sin. That is very clear. All we have to do is look in the mirror and you know that if you are a member of God’s church, you still have sin and you need to purge it. That is what Paul says.

Let us go on to the next symbol in verse 33 and that is the main actor here.

Matthew 13:33

The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took. . .

‘Woman’ is the next symbol and here is another surprise because, up to this point in the parables of Matthew 13, you have had a man doing the work (“a man sows”). And obviously, “the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.” You think, as it goes on, it is about a man out there sowing mustard seed. But here we get a change.

We have another character (a woman, not a man) and this change is significant. Now you might think “Well, women are usually the ones that make bread, right?” Well, that is true. But in a series of parables like this where there is a man doing all these things and suddenly there is a woman doing something, we need to take note because change is significant.

If you go through the Bible, you see women are used as symbols of various things. You find that a woman symbolizes the church. A woman symbolizes the false church. Woman symbolizes Babylon, the Old Covenant (Hagar), the New Covenant (Sarah), Israel (Aholah), Judah (Aholibah), even Sodom (one of their sisters). Of course, there are many others where women are used to symbolize things.

Now the common denominator in all of these things (church, Babylon, false church, Old Covenant, New Covenant, Israel, Judah, Sodom) is there is a system of beliefs and practices that mold, shape, fashion, or influence a community of people. All of these things are communities of people, but they are differentiated by what they teach or what they exemplify.

The church exemplifies or teaches the truth of God, but the false church exemplifies and teaches something that is not right. It has a part of the truth, but it is a mixture of the knowledge of good and evil, and it actually persecutes and suppresses the church of God.

The same thing can be said for Babylon. We know Babylon is a big system. Actually it stands for the system that is in this world that is against God and it is influencing people all around the world. And we can go on through these others and see the same thing.

But that is the common denominator among all these symbols of women, that the woman represents a system of beliefs and practices that it teaches or uses to influence others. If you are a part of Babylon, then you have been molded or influenced by the Babylonian system. If you are a part of the church, on the other hand, you have been molded and influenced by the truth of God and therefore should be doing what the truth tells you to do.

So that is the underlying message or interpretation of what the woman represents—a system of beliefs and practices that are used to mold, shape, or influence a community of people whether that community is the whole world, a particular nation, or a body of people like the church.

This symbol actually goes all the way back to Eve. Do you remember the principle, the law of first mention? Well, the first mention of a woman is in the person of Eve. And what did she do? She was the one that influenced Adam to sin (“Here, take this apple,” or whatever it was, and he ate). So that symbol goes right on through the Bible, that the woman, as a symbol in parables and prophecies, tends to be about something—some entity—that uses its influence on others.

To know what that system is (whether it is good or bad or what it is supposed to be doing), we have to look at the context though. You cannot just say “Oh, this is a system” and go on. We need to know “Is this system—this woman—good or bad?” We have to check out the context and see what the characteristics are.

So what did this woman do? Well, the first thing it says she did was ‘took.’ She took. Originally, this word is the Greek ‘lambano’ (sounds like a dance). It connotes ‘grasping’ and ‘seizing.’ The root of this is ‘grasping’ and ‘seizing.’ It is used about simple ‘obtaining,’ that you take an apple off the pile there and you would eat it. You obtained that apple. You took it off the pile.

But it also has the connotation where it means ‘stealing’ or gaining possession of a thing that was not given (meaning, instead of it being a gift, you appropriated it for yourself; it was not given to you, you took it). It could also be used in Greek to mean ‘to take captive’ or ‘to kidnap’ or ‘take as a hostage’ or that sort of thing.

Now what I think Jesus is indicating, is that the woman did not receive this leaven as a gift. It was not something that was given to her, we might say, from above. It was not part of what God would have given as a good thing. This was something she took, she appropriated for herself—something she took of her own volition.

I want you to please look with me in II Corinthians 11 because this is the context in which this appears.

II Corinthians 11:3

I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

II Corinthians 11:13-14

For [there] are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And [it is] no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

We see then a theme in this chapter that Paul is concerned that they are going to be deceived by these false ministers and the false teachings that they are putting out there for them to hear. That is the context. Then he goes in to a different section (my New King James here calls it ‘Reluctant Boasting’) but he is on the same subject. Notice what he says in verse 20.

II Corinthians 11:20-21

For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face. To our shame I say that we were too weak for that [anyway, he is actually being sarcastic here]!

But notice that he uses this word ‘took’ (it is actually in present tense, ‘takes,’ here in verse 20). This is the same word ‘lambano’ and he is using it in the sense of ‘stealing,’ of taking what is not theirs. “So if one takes from you,” he says, and this is in the same context as the deceits of Satan and his ministers.

What I am saying is that, here ‘takes’ means ‘to exploit by deception,’ ‘to take advantage of by trickery.’ I believe that that is the same sense it is used in Matthew 13:33—that the woman takes advantage by trickery. She takes this leaven. She takes this thing that was not supposed to be taken.

Why do I think that? Why is it something thatis negative? Why is not it just that she obtains it? Because of the next two words. It says, “and hid in.” Now it is a different word obviously than what we just read, but ‘hid’ is a very interesting Greek word (‘enkrupto’). It is only used here, in this form, in the Bible.

If you listen to that word ‘enkrupto,’ does it remind you of any English word? Encrypt. If we encrypt a message, we do exactly this: We hide our message by mixing the letters into a code. So the underlying meaning of ‘enkrupto’ or ‘hide’ in here has to do with mixing something secretly.

So ‘enkrupto’ means ‘to hide in’ as it is actually, literally translated here in verse 33—to hide in something. This woman hid the leaven in the measures of meal. So she hid it in. ‘To hide in’ is the basic meaning.

It can also mean ‘to mix’ (which is what a lot of modern Bibles translate this word as, in this particular verse, because they believe it is a positive parable). It can mean even ‘to knead’ or ‘to fold’ or ‘conceal.’ But, without any descriptors around it or the context not getting in the way here, its major connotation is ‘being sneaky,’ secret, covert, surreptitious.

When you take the two words together—took (lambano) and hid (enkrupto)—and you put them together in the same sentence, it becomes pretty obvious that this woman is doing something bad. She is not on the up and up.

First, she steals or takes something that was not given to her as a gift, and then she hides it, or she conceals it in this other thing. Not only is she sinning in the first place by taking something (breaking the Eighth Commandment), she is also now compounding her sin by hiding it, by concealing it. So the woman is up to no good. She is a bad lady. She is not a good lady, she is a bad lady.

What she is doing—if we could just take away all of the dross here and just try to give you an understanding of what Jesus is trying to say—is that she is mixing (or we would use the theological term ‘syncretizing’) false teaching into this meal. She is mixing something that is corrupt—the leaven—into the meal. She is a negative symbol.

Where is this leaven—the hidden leaven, the leaven that was stolen, the leaven that was taken—directed? Well, it is directed at the three measures of meal which is also a very interesting symbol. Now three measures equals about twenty-one or twenty-two liters. That is a lot. Before today, I had had a figure down here for how big it was and I went back and re-calculated it and found out I was wrong.

Twenty-one or twenty-two liters is actually about five-and-a-half gallons of flour. It is a lot of flour. I mean, you could imagine gallons. That is something most of us can understand from, like a milk jug. That is a lot of meal. And she is putting this leaven into this great amount of meal.

As a matter of fact, commentators say that this amount of flour would make anywhere between a hundred and a hundred and fifty loaves of bread. So it is large. Remember we are talking about the growth of the Kingdom of God. It is supposed to increase, it is supposed to expand. So there is a lot of meal there to work with.

But if we want to understand what three measures of meal really means, we have to go back to the book of Genesis, in chapter 18. This is another one of those instances where the law of first mention comes into play.

Now the law of first mention says that any time a phrase or a word is used the first time, it colors its usage, its understanding, its interpretation in the rest of the Bible (like I mentioned with Eve). Eve is the one who tempted Adam and he sinned.

Here we have, in Genesis 18, the first use of three measures of meal. Okay, let us start in verse 1 so we can see what is going on here.

Genesis 18:1-8

Then the Lord appeared to him [Abraham] by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.” They said, “Do as you have said.” So Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes” [So she is going to make a hundred cakes for these guys. Just a morsel of bread!]. And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.

We understand that one of these men was Jesus Christ and the other two were angels. This is the lead-up for a couple of things.

Here God, the Lord, told Abraham that he would have a son when He came by in the appointed time next year.

The second thing in this chapter is Abraham’s intercession for Sodom; that God said “I cannot keep this from Abraham, so I am going to tell him what I am going to do to Sodom. Its cry has come up. It needs to be destroyed” and so all that goes on.

So you have this fellowship meal that Abraham and Sarah make for the Lord which contains three measures of meal, and it is during the meal there is this huge announcement of the promised son coming. It is a big thing, it is huge, in the plan of God that Isaac would be born. He is not only the progenitor, then, of all of Israel that is going to be born from Abraham, but also he is a type of Jesus Christ, the real Promised Son. So big things in the plan of God here. Of course, then, if we go on, we have the problem with Sodom as well.

Not only that, we should not forget the fact who Abraham is. What is he called in the New Testament? The father of the faithful. He represents the church of God or the righteous person. He is the one who began it all as it were. So just keep those in mind. This is the first time that the phrase “three measures of fine meal” is mentioned. It is also mentioned two other times (not mentioned in that phrasing specifically).

In Judges 6:18-19, Gideon, when he is accosted by the angel in the winepress, says: “Can I make you an offering?” He makes an offering and included in that offering is an ephah of fine flour, which is three measures of meal. Now just think about what Gideon did. He was being chosen to lead that army of 300 men, and be a savior of Israel and a judge later on. Another big thing.

The next time it is used is in I Samuel 1:24 where Hannah dedicates Samuel (gives him to the Lord so he could live with the priest there)—another huge moment in Israelite history because Samuel became the prophet, and he is the one that anointed David as king, and he was a judge. So big things happen when three measures of meal are in these offerings.

Numbers 15:8-9

And when you prepare a young bull as a burnt offering, or as a sacrifice to fulfill a vow, or as a peace offering to the Lord, then shall be offered with the young bull a grain offering [or meal offering] of three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with half a hin of oil.

Here we have it being told us that the grain offering is three-tenths of an ephah (or basically one-third of an ephah).

Now you need to know a little bit about Israelite measures here because this is not the same thing as three measures of meal. The omer is the smallest unit of capacity and it takes three omers to make one seah, which is the unit of measure transliterated in Matthew 13:33. We are talking about seahs here (which is one-third of an ephah, because it takes three seahs to make one ephah). So you have three omers make one seah and then three seahs make one ephah. This is not exact at all because ten omers make one ephah. So it is a little bit inexact.

But what you see here is that the normal meal offering was one-third of an ephah, which is one-third of one seah—one measure of meal. If something is three measures of meal, then what is being said here is that this offering is great, it is for a huge purpose—just like Abraham’s offering there to the three men was three measures of meal. It was way above and beyond what was normally required. It was three times as large.

So what Jesus is talking about here in the parable is that this thing, this entity, that is represented by the fine flour—the three measures of meal—is to do a great work or do a great thing for the kingdom of heaven. It is what may be called a meal offering on steroids.

We have come to understand, if we go back to Leviticus 2, that the meal offering symbolizes the offeror’s service and devotion to fellow man. That is the basic understanding. The burnt offering is like the first and great commandment which talks about, of course, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your being.’ The second great commandment is seen in the meal offering which is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ It speaks to our devotion and our love toward one another.

Leviticus 2:11

“No grain offering which you bring to the Lord shall be made with leaven for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey in any offering to the Lord made by fire.”

Now we are beginning to see things come together. What is Satan doing here through the woman? Because if we go back to Matthew 13 and we look at all the parables, we see it starts out with the Parable of the Sower and that the birds of the air (which is interpreted as Satan and his demons) come and try to snatch it away.

In the Parable of the Tares, Satan the enemy, the adversary, comes and puts tares amidst the field of wheat.

In the Parable of the Mustard Seed, we find that something has happened so that the mustard seed has grown into a tree and the birds of the air (again Satan and his demons) have come to dwell in it.

And here we find that this woman is putting leaven in the meal offering—this super meal offering. Because the church basically, we could say, is supposed to be a super meal offering of Jesus Christ to this world. It is His body that He has given for the life of the world, for the life of everyone in it, if they are called to believe in it.

Jesus seems to be indicating, by the prophecy in this parable, that the church’s service and devotion to fellow man will be corrupted by this woman’s (the false system’s) mixing of false, destructive, and corrupting doctrines into its teachings and practices. What Jesus is saying is that once He founds the church, false teaching and false practices are going to infiltrate the church. And what it is going to do—the biggest problem that it is going to cause—is that it is going to break down the harmony of the church members.

Satan’s goal, then, in deceiving the church like this, is to undermine the proper way that we should act and react and serve each other. That if he gets at us, we could say, on the one hand, he works to set members against each other and, on the other hand, he corrupts the doctrines and the practices that would help us to reconcile with one another.

And if the people are at odds with each other (if the hand and the foot do not love each other, if the spleen and the large intestine cannot get along in the body of Christ as it were), the church’s work will be ineffective. They cannot do God’s work because they are squabbling internally. With leaven in it, the church cannot fulfill its purpose of being light and salt and a blessing to the world. They are making a bad witness. As Francis Schaeffer said, people out there can smell hypocrisy a mile away.

And you know what? Matthew 13:33 says the woman, that awful woman, succeeds (He says “till it was all leavened through and through”). That whole three measures of meal that makes, or should make, this huge amount of bread is completely leavened with just a little pinch of sour dough (a little bit of leaven).

Galatians 5:9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

The church has been very successful in guarding the significant doctrines which mark it as God’s church (the Sabbath, the nature of God, the identity of Israel, the holy days, God’s plan, several other things besides that we could name). But where has it shown its great weakness? Right here, in the area of personal relationships, in not showing true love one for another.

What are the church’s greatest problems today, beyond a lack of understanding of the doctrines? Well, they are in things like distrust, offense, marriage problems, disunity, selfishness, gossip, rumor, talebearing, judging and condemning one another, comparing ourselves among ourselves (as Paul says), and giving place to wrath, among others. All of these are involved in the meal offering. The meal offering covers all of these in that we are not showing love and devotion toward each other. This is the area that we need to focus our efforts in overcoming. We have got to start learning to get along as brethren.

God gives a remedy for this in Matthew 13, but it is one that we have been doing. I hope we have been doing well. The remedy is in the Parable of the Householder, which is the final parable in Matthew 13:51-52. I will not go over it. It is very simple.

The householder is the ministry. He has been given charge, in this particular parable, to take out of his treasure both old and new. Meaning, what he is supposed to do here is, he is supposed to use what he has learned and experienced, what he has been taught by others, for the good of his house (the church). He is supposed to teach these things to the people.

Then Christ tells him to bring out old and new. Jesus is saying that a minister should teach by carefully balancing the teaching of the old and new testaments, or, to put another way, balancing traditional understanding of God’s Word with new insights and applications (not new truths as it was told to us back in the early ’90s). I am talking always THE truth of God, but having a new insight or new perception of it so that we can give it to you in a way that is more understandable and will apply in this day and age.

So the ministry is charged, then, in this particular parable, with being a bulwark against Satan’s and the woman’s deceptions by teaching what Paul calls “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). And in I Timothy 6, Paul admonishes Timothy. He says:

I Timothy 6:20-21

O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding [the woman:] the profane and vain babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—by professing it, some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you. Amen.

That is what the ministry is charged to do here. They are to be the first line of defense against this woman. But there is a second line of defense and that is you. Let us finish here in Philippians 2. The second line of defense is your godly response to these teachings. Paul writes here:

Philippians 2:1-5

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy [these are all things that we should have one for another], fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.

You are the second bulwark against this woman and Satan’s deceptions. The ministry’s teaching will do no good if those who hear it do not respond by humbling themselves before the Word of God and looking out for the interests of others, showing love toward them (especially their interest in eternal life in the Kingdom of God). What a shame it would be, or how terrible it would be, if something we have done would cause another to stumble and not be in the Kingdom—because we did not show the proper love for them! As it says here, Jesus lived His life like this. This was His mind, that He would do anything and everything that it took to love the brethren, to love others. And it is our great goal to live in His image.

So do not let that woman, with her leaven, win the day. Paul exhorts, in I Corinthians 5:

I Corinthians 5:7

Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.

© 2006 CGG

Parables Of Matthew 13

by Richard T. Ritenbaugh


The author presents an encouraging conclusion to his series on Matthew 13 by describing Christ's work on behalf of the church (Hidden Treasure, Pearl of Great Price, Dragnet) and the work of the ministry (Householder). The church constitutes His treasure, hidden in the world, purchased and redeemed with Christ's blood. The Pearl of Great Price depicts a rich merchant (Christ), the only one who had the means to redeem His church. The Dragnet symbolizes the scope of God's calling while the separation process indicates God's high standards of selection, indicating a time of righteous and impartial judgment. The Householder parable shows the responsibility of the ministry to be authoritative interpreters of scripture, using what they have learned and experienced to instruct the people.

When we concluded the sermon two weeks ago it may have seemed somewhat overwhelming to think that Satan would go to such extremes to derail the church as a whole, and to derail us as individual members of the church. In the last phrase of The Parable of the Leaven (Matthew 13:33), it says that the whole church organization was leavened, and that could get pretty depressing. It may have sobered some of you, it may have depressed some of you, and may have angered some of you that something like this would have gone on.

Today's sermon is the other side of the coin. Remember I began the last sermon explaining some of the context of Matthew 12 and how Jesus had spent that entire busy day, as the commentators call it, defining the two sides of this great spiritual conflict in which we find ourselves embroiled. The last two sermons that I have spoken have focused on Satan's side in all this—all the things that he would do to trip the church up.

Today we're going to see the great encouragement that Jesus gives to those that are on His side of the battle. So time permitting, we're going to cover the last four parables of Matthew 13. I see some of you shaking your heads and laughing and thinking that's pretty much impossible for me to do, but it fit in my notes, so I think I can do it.

You'll recall from the first sermon I gave you a list of three sections that the parables of Matthew 13 fit into. I'll give you that again. There are eight parables divided into three sections.

Section 1:

The Parable of the Sower

The Parable of the Tares

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

The Parable of the Leaven

Summary Statement: Satan's Plan to Destroy the Church

Section 2:

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure

The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

The Parable of the Dragnet

Summary Statement: Christ's Work In Behalf Of The Church

Section 3:

The Parable of the Householder

Summary Statement: A Minister's Duty to the Church, or A Minister's Duty

So God willing, we're going to cover these second and third sections today. In a way you could even say that these two sections combine into one, because doesn't Christ say (in Ephesians 4) that the ministry is a gift from Him to the church; and that they are given in order to do the work of preaching the gospel, equipping the saints, and to help bring people up to the measure of the stature and the fullness of Christ? In a way, the ministry is part of Christ's work, but I split it out into a third section because Christ seemed to separate it out Himself in the way that Matthew 13 is structured, so I've done that too and put it as a third section.

Let's get right into it. We're going to take The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price together, because they are very much alike in form and in meaning.

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure

Matthew 13:44
Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Matthew 13:45-46
Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Like I said, those two parables are somewhat the same. There is a man, there is some sort of treasure, and after he finds it, he goes and sells everything he has and buys that treasure. They are very similar. These two parables are universally thought to be positive parables, unlike the first four, where there is dispute over whether they are positive or negative. I've taken the stand that they are all negative, and pretty negative at that, but these are all thought to be positive parables—they mean a good thing. Even so, although people agree that they are positive, they still have different ideas about how to interpret them. I think that once we go through these we'll see that the meaning is very clear.

We've already interpreted two of the symbols found in verse 44—"the field" and "the man." We'll find (in Matthew 13:37) the one who sows good seed there is "the son of man." We've seen (in the other parables) that wherever "man" shows up, it tends to be Christ. The "Son of man" is obviously Christ, and "man," in these parables, is Christ. In Matthew 13:38, it says the field is "the world," and that's very clear. So here you have "treasure" found in the world, and Christ is doing something with it.

How is "treasure" used in scripture? Obviously the literal meaning of "treasure" is what would first come to mind. It means jewels, gold, silver, other precious metals, other gem stones, art, jewelry, and fine clothing. Those things would be considered "treasure." But we're talking here about a parable, and a parable is metaphorical. The symbol here must mean something other than just a jewel, or a bunch of jewels, or a bunch of coins, or a chest full of something. So how is "treasure" used metaphorically in the Bible? Let's read four different scriptures, starting in Exodus 19:5. I'm just going to continue through it.

Exodus 19:5
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.

Psalm 135:4
For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special treasure.

Malachi 3:16-17
Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who meditate on His name. They shall be Mine, says the LORD of hosts, On the day that I make them My jewels.

If you check the margin on that you will see that "My jewels" is literally "special treasure." He says, "On the day that I make them My jewels, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him."

Now we'll go to I Peter 2:9-10. We'll follow this phrase, "special treasure," throughout the Bible. We've gone to three Old Testament Scriptures, and now one in the New Testament.

I Peter 2:9-10
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

Did you notice the progression of identity here? First, this special treasure was Israel, the one that God had made a covenant with on Mount Sinai. In the Psalms we saw that He calls His special treasure specifically: "Israel" and "Jacob." And then once He got to Malachi, God is calling His special treasure, "those who fear His name," and "those who speak one to another" about this.

In I Peter 2 it is "the elect" that are His special people. It has gone from "Israel," to a little bit more general—"those who fear His name"—to specific again—"His special people, a holy nation."

"Treasure" here is the church. The church fits all of those things. The church is spiritual Israel. They are the Israel of God. The church is those who fear His name among all the people of the earth. The church is really the only group who truly fear God in a godly way, and of course the church is a people who are not a people. We all came out of the world separately, individually. We were not a people then.

We may have come from the same nation, but we have people over there in South Africa. We have people in France, and we have people in Canada. We have people all over this world who are not a nation themselves but are now bound and united as God's treasure in the church.

You will notice in Matthew 13 that it says that this treasure was hidden in the world. How were we hidden in the world? You will remember, in the Parable of the Leaven, the word "hid" was used in a negative sense, and we found that out by its context. Well, we're going to have to do that again and find out what this "hid" means here in verse 44 in the Parable of the Hidden Treasure.

If you look and see all the things that are in the context of that parable, they are all positive. First you have Christ, and then you have the world (which may not seem all that positive), but then you have joy and you have Christ's self-sacrifice for this treasure. So these are all positive things that happen around the word "hid." I think it must be a little more positive than that. How then is the church hidden in the world? Remember, this is before your calling. How was the church hidden in the world?

Let's go to Ephesians 2. This part isn't quite so positive, but you'll notice (in Matthew 13:44) that it's hidden again, that he finds it hidden in the world, and then once he finds it, he hides it again, so it's kind of interesting. This is the less positive of the two.

Ephesians 2:1-7
And you He made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Did you get where we were hid before? Well, we were hid in the field, weren't we? We were hid in the world. How were we hidden? We were hidden, because we were just like everybody else. We were dead in trespasses and sin, and we conducted ourselves "according to the prince of the power of the air." So we were hidden in plain sight, because everybody else was just like us, but we've been found. Once we were found, what did Christ do? He hid us again. What does this mean then? How does Christ hide us after we're called, after He finds us? Well, let's go to John 17:11. John 17 is kind of an interesting concept. I think you know what it is.

John 17:11
Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.

John 17:14-18
I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.

How did Christ hide us? He sends us right back into the world! He doesn't glorify us immediately, He doesn't place us up on a pedestal, but what He does is He sends us back into the world. We're hidden in the world, but in a different way, after we're called. See, we're no longer of the world, but we look like the world. We haven't changed much except internally, spiritually. So we go back into the world and we go through our daily lives, and people don't recognize us for what we are unless some matter of the truth comes up. Notice what Jesus said in John 17:17. He said, "Sanctify them by Your truth."

Put in layman's terms, "Set them apart by your truth." That is what makes us different from everybody else—God's truth in us. To look at you going down the street, for the most part, you're hidden. You're an average Joe. But if you come across something like what's been happening here in North and South Carolina where the truth suddenly becomes important because you don't want to do something on the Sabbath that your boss or your teacher or someone who has authority in a certain area of your life says you must come in on the Sabbath and do, ... well, then you're separated from them, aren't you?

Of course our lives should be showing that we're living by God's way all the time, but for the most part we're hidden from this world's view by being in among them. It doesn't say that Christ came, and He finds us in the field, and then He goes and hides us somewhere else. It just says that "He finds it, and that He hides it again." It does say that He went back and bought the field, doesn't it?

So He buys the world, because that is where His treasure is—hidden in the world—but in a slightly different way from when He found it. We're no longer hidden in the world because we're like the world and doing the sins that were in the world, instead we're hidden in the world because we're just average people, and unless the truth comes up in a matter of our daily lives, we seem just like everybody else. At least that's the way I look at it. You may have a different idea of what "hidden in the world" means, but that's what I came up with.

In Colossians 3:3, we get a slightly different look at this. Paul actually uses this phrase, or this idea, when he's talking to the Colossians.

Colossians 3:3
For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

I looked this up in the commentaries to see what the commentators would say, because I wasn't quite sure what this would mean. I wanted to see what several people thought, and the idea is very much the same as in The Parable of the Hidden Treasure. This means that God has a treasure, and He hides it in Christ. See, we're a part of the body of Christ. We're hidden there like in a vault, a treasure house, a place where you want to keep your valuables so that they will be secure and nothing bad will happen to them; they won't be stolen or they won't be degraded somehow.

The idea here is that if you are truly seeking those things which are above, and you're truly "in Christ," then your eternal life is secure. I don't want you to think that this is eternal security, because it's not. The Protestants have an idea about eternal security that is very false, that once you believe in Christ, that's it, and your eternal life is guaranteed. In verse 1, Paul makes it very clear that there is something that we must be doing for this to happen.

Colossians 3:1
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.

We've got to be seeking those things which are above in order for us to have that eternal security.

Colossians 3:2
Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.

If we're doing those things, then God promises that He has taken us as His special treasure, and He is putting us in His vault for safe keeping.

What is the next thing that happens? Christ finds us, and hides us again, and what is His reaction? Joy!

Matthew 13:44
And for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

I went to this Scripture two days ago, on Thursday, but let's go to it again. Go to Hebrews 12 and verse 2. You will see the joy of Jesus Christ in what He did for us in buying the field. It tells us that:

Hebrews 12:2
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

See, He was joyful that He could do this for us, that He could buy us, that He could redeem us, that we could be His purchased possession. There obviously wasn't a whole lot of joy in dying on the cross in the way He was crucified. There was no joy in that at all. It was excruciating and terrible, but there was joy in what it produced. There was joy that He had qualified to become King of kings, and Lord of lords, and our High Priest—the Savior of all mankind, all those who would believe in Him.

There was joy that that step in the process of bringing the Kingdom of God to this earth had been fulfilled. There was joy in heaven that this had happened, and the plan of God was moving forward and God would then have sons and daughters. The creative process of refurbishing the entire universe had taken a great leap forward. The King had succeeded. The Savior had saved. What joy there was in those in the spirit realm who understood that a great leap forward had taken place, and then it made possible for all men to be saved, for those who believed.

It says here in Matthew 13:44, (which we've already touched on a little bit) that he sold everything and bought the field.

Let's read John 3:16, the most famous verse in all the Bible (according to some).

John 3:16-17
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

Our God, Jesus Christ, gave up everything and redeemed the whole world. As it says in this verse, "whoever believes in Him" should have eternal life, ...not the whole world just because the whole world was there, but out of the whole world, those that believed in Him. Paul says in Hebrews 9 that He gave Himself "once" for all time, for all sin, and He doesn't have to give Himself again. That's all it took, but it took all He had.

Paul is talking to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28.

Acts 20:28
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

That was the purchase price for the field—His own blood, which I said was "His all." So what was the lesson here in The Parable of the Hidden Treasure? Well, it's pretty simple. Our Lord and Savior, finding the treasure of His elect in the world, conceals and protects them against all the depredations of the enemy. Remember, we're hidden. That's the protection part. And with His own life's blood, He redeemed us with joy. That's the lesson of this parable.

This should give us great confidence in our spiritual battles. The greatest battle has already been won, and not only that—since we are His treasure and since He hides us (and protects us through that hiding), and sanctifies us through His truth, and prayed there that we would be protected from the evil one, it's not as bad as it seems. We've got a lot more going for us than we might think. So to summarize this parable here, Christ joyfully gave His all for our redemption, and protects us even though we're still in the world.

Now we'll go on to The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price.

Like I said, it is immediately obvious that The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price and The Parable of the Hidden Treasure are similar because of their similar form and the similar symbols that are in them. They both tell the same basic story. It's interesting that in this series of parables here, Christ did two that are so very similar. This is not unusual.

In Genesis 41:1-7 is Pharaoh's dream about the upcoming famine. If you will notice, God gave it to Pharaoh twice. I can't remember which order it was in, whether it was the grain first, and then the kine, or whether there was the kine first, and then the grain. It doesn't matter. He did this to emphasize the dream to Pharaoh. That was the first reason. Repetition is the best form of emphasis.

The second reason He did it was because there was something in the second one that wasn't in the first one that was important for Pharaoh to understand. What this tells me (and what it told Joseph) is that there was not only going to be a famine of the vegetation, but there was also going to be a famine in the livestock as well. This would be a total famine, and so they had to prepare accordingly. In these two parables then—The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price—there must be something additional in The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price that is not quite understandable from The Parable of the Hidden Treasure. He gave another parable with a little bit different meaning ... very similar, but a little bit different in order for us to be encouraged.

The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

Let's talk about the merchant first, in the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. The merchant was common in Palestine because Palestine is the crossroads of the Middle East. It was the crossroads of the Roman world. To get anywhere you pretty much had to go through Palestine. Even if you had to ship things, they often went through Palestine because they would go along the coast and they would make their ports there along the coast of Palestine.

The particular merchant that Jesus speaks about was a very uncommon merchant. He was special. He was so special because he had a very narrow niche in the market. He only bought and sold pearls. This gives us an indication then of what kind of person this merchant was. If he could devote all his time just to the seeking of pearls, he must have been a pretty rich merchant. He must have been pretty highly placed. He wasn't your common caravan master. He was someone whom we would call "a specialist." You might even call him a buyer for a particular type of person, like royalty.

The reason I mention that is because, in the ancient world, pearls were so rare that usually only kings could afford them, and the kings used them in their crowns and on their clothing to show off (to show their royal splendor) and to say, "Look at me. I can afford pearls."

Some have thought that the merchant is a person like you and me who goes seeking after Christ, or after the gospel, or after the kingdom. But when you look at it from the Bible, that is just absolutely impossible. It cannot be. We'll just take a couple of verses here to show this.

Romans 3:11
There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.

Right there that idea gets thrown out the window. Nobody seeks after God. Let's look at another one—John 6:44. You know this one by heart.

John 6:44
No man can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.

It basically says nobody can seek after God either. Let's look at Isaiah 55:1

Isaiah 55:1
Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; and you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

It means we can't buy anything from God, so how could we be the merchant who goes and buys the pearl. It's not possible. Luke 7:42 is interesting too. This is part of a parable here of the two debtors. One phrase is very interesting in this.

Luke 7:42
And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both.

The creditor here is God. The debtors are you and me. And Christ (God) freely forgives us even though we have nothing to buy forgiveness with, ...and so we can't be the merchant. There is just no way. First, we don't seek Him; secondly, we have to be called in order to seek Him; and thirdly, we can't buy it, and if we could buy it, we don't have the money to buy it. On all counts, it's impossible. We cannot be the merchant. That leaves only one person that it could be—Jesus Christ Himself. He's the only one with enough "money" in order to buy this pearl.

Luke 19:10
For the Son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

John 15:16
You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.

John 10:3
To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

Only Christ can do that.

Isaiah 43:1
But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.

That tells us who the merchant is. Without a doubt it's Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.

Like the hidden treasure, the pearl is something of value. It can be part of a treasure, but there is one difference between "treasure" and "the pearl." Notice what it says in Matthew 13:44. It says "like treasure," but notice what it says in Matthew 13:46—"one pearl of great price." What's the difference? "Treasure" is a collective noun. That is, it is made up of many pieces of gold, silver, coins, articles of fine clothing, art, gem stones. It's like the treasure of a pirate that's buried somewhere in the Caribbean. There's usually a chest of something. That's what He's looking at in the Parable of the Hidden Treasure—many some things, many treasures. What He is looking at in The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price is one particular treasure. We might call it "the centerpiece" of His treasure as this one Pearl of Great Price.

Ephesians 4:4-6
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all.

Here you have that "one" bit again, but I wanted "one body." Here Paul stresses the church's singularity, its uniqueness, its oneness. There is only ONE church.

Romans 12:5
So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.

Here Paul emphasizes our unity even though we're made up of many. We're many members, but we're one body. Not only that, we're interdependent with one another. We rely on one another to do certain things within that body to make the body function as it's supposed to.

Colossians 3:15

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

Here this verse focuses us on being called into one body, and God's part in it, that God specifically put us in one body to do something, to be something. In I Corinthians 12:12-14, 27 this is repeated. We are many members, but we are one body, and God put us each in the body to do what He wants us to do.

I Corinthians 12:12-14
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.

I Corinthians 12:27
Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.

That "pearl is "the church," and the pearl is the church as a whole, whereas the "treasure," in the preceding parable is "the church" in its individual members. In the first parable Christ is assuring us that He has His eye on us, that we are so valuable to Him as an individual, but in this parable, He switches the focus just slightly to let us know that all of us as a whole, as a body, as His Bride, are important. He makes that His centerpiece of His treasure—the Bride who will marry His Son.

In Ephesians 5:25-27, we'll bring out the "bride" aspect here.

Ephesians 5:25-27
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.

This gives you some idea of how much value Christ places in the church. We are His Bride. We are the centerpiece of His kingdom, of His treasure. This is pretty high praise. A pretty lofty goal. It says here in Ephesians 5 that once He calls us a church, He sets out to perfect us, to make us absolutely holy and without blemish so we can be a fitting spouse for Him.

Revelation 19:7-9
Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, Write: Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb! And he said to me, These are the true sayings of God.

So what's the lesson here? How could we summarize this? Christ joyfully gave His all for the church as His Bride, and He is going to prepare it as His adornment, just like a king adorns his clothing and his crown with pearls. This should give us even more encouragement in our battle against Satan. We have so much going for us, not only as individual sons and daughters of God, but because we have been called right now as members of His Bride. If we keep up the good work, if we allow God to work in us and take out all the blemishes, what a glorious future we have!

The Parable of the Dragnet

When I started studying, this became one of my favorite parables because I think it has a great deal of meaning. I won't say it is definitely my favorite, but I think we can get a lot more meaning out of it than meets the eye at first.

Matthew 13:47-50
Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

This doesn't sound too positive, does it—condemnation, judgment, the lake of fire, gnashing of teeth. (I love that word! You can just almost hear it right in the word. "Onomatopoeia.") We can also see a similarity between it and The Parable of the Tares where this same idea happens. At the end of the age the tares will be gathered up and thrown into the furnace of fire. The emphasis there in The Parable of the Tares is on the wicked and the work that they do, and their judgment because of their wickedness, their works. But here, instead of the wicked being highlighted, it's mainly about the process of judgment, not necessarily condemnation. It's not only about people being condemned for doing bad, it's also about people being saved and rewarded for doing good, so there's a little bit more positive spin on it there.

This idea of the dragnet and the whole parable is drawn from the work of such men as Peter and Andrew and James and John. They were fishers of men. No they weren't. They were fishers, and He made them as fishers of men. They were fishermen, and they became fishers of men. On the Sea of Galilee, they used a dragnet. What they did is, they had a long net that they drew between two boats, and they coordinated these two boats to sweep a specific area of the Sea of Galilee.

Then they would draw the net up to shore and the fishermen then had to sit there on the beach and go through the entire net and throw the good fish into a barrel, for sale, and take the bad fish and throw them into another barrel so they could burn them later on. They got rid of the bad fish in the sea. They didn't want to catch them again. That's the idea here.

A partial interpretation of this is found in Matthew 4:18-20. I already mentioned that Christ called His disciples and told them that He would make them fishers of men, ...not just fishermen—they would go out and bring in a catch for Him. So part of this then is that the church, the people who are called, are caught in God's net, and the net is drawn by His servants. It's not very hard to understand that.

Now we have the sea. They threw this net into the sea. That's a very interesting symbol. I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time on these symbols, but just enough to give you a taste.

Revelation 13:1
Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns.

Revelation 13:11
Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.

These two symbols are very, very similar. The "earth" (or the land) and the "sea" both show origin. Their origin is of the earth. They are not out of that realm. Jesus does things, and these signs and wonders come out of heaven, but these beasts, which we know are of the wrong system, come out of the sea and out of the earth, it shows that their origin is on earth.

In Revelation 17:15, we'll get the Bible's definition of what "waters" is symbolically. The angel said to John:

Revelation 17:15
The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.

Just as a sea is composed primarily of water, the world is composed primarily of peoples, nations, groups, and languages. They make up what the world is. When the fish are caught in a net in the sea, it means that we are called out of the world. But there is something more to that. Remember, it says here that it gathers some of every kind. This means that God's net catches fish without partiality to age, sex, station, ethnicity, race, wealth, intelligence, language, beauty, or whatever trait you want to divide people into.

God is an equal opportunity Caller. Just because you have red hair it doesn't mean He leaves you out. It doesn't mean anything. God is worried mostly about your character and what He can do with you.

Romans 2:11
For there is no partiality with God.

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 9:18
Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

Romans 9:21
Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?

The following was after Peter's vision where the animals came down and he told God he had never eaten anything unclean, and he wasn't about to start.

Acts 10:34-35
Then Peter opened his mouth and said, In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

That's the idea of some of every kind being caught in God's net. It's very clear. The church is God's catch, and it's a cross-section of the entire world. God is no respecter of persons in His calling. Just because you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth doesn't make you anymore likely to be called than the next guy down the block or across the railroad tracks.

However, once we've accepted Christ, God does show Himself partial, and that's where we get into verse 48 of Matthew 13, because He is very partial to those who love Him, who obey Him, who serve others, who grow and produce fruit. See, He's partial to good fish. He doesn't want any stinkers in the lot. The parable shows that in the process of salvation God judges whether we are good useable fish, or bad fit-for-the-fire fish. He judges us according to how well we measure up against the standard, and that standard of course is "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).

This is done in modern fishing. Most places in the United States have a standard. If you catch a fish and it doesn't fit the standard of a certain length of fish, you are required by law to throw it back in. It's the same thing in God's kingdom. God throws His net out there and drags you in, and if you don't fit that certain limit ...well, you don't only get thrown back in, it's much worse. You get thrown into the fire.

John the Baptist said something like this in a little bit different way.

Matthew 3:12
His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Matthew 25:31-34
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

It's the same idea. If we don't make the standard, God is going to throw us away. In Matthew 25:31-34 is The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Christ is the Judge, and He sets the sheep on the right hand, and the goats on the left hand, and it says that the sheep go into glory, and the goats go into the lake of fire.

So without a doubt there is a judgment coming, and we're involved in the judgment right now. Not only is the sentence coming, but we're being judged as I speak right now, and we're being judged about whether we're doing good or evil. God very clearly in many places tells us to live accordingly, and expect it. He doesn't leave us with any doubt about whether there's going to be a judgment. He tells us very clearly what it takes to qualify to pass the judgment we're set then.

He also tells us that everybody is judged the same way, according to the same standard, by the same rules, by the same law. If a bad fish gets caught in the net with the good fish, well, the bad fish will have His judgment too. See, this is actually a bit more encouraging than it looks on the surface. If we see that there are bad fish among us, we don't have to worry about it because we know that the Judge has promised a judgment, and it's not on our shoulders to judge that person. It's not on our shoulders even to do anything about that person, because he's not our fish. He's God's fish, and God will make the decision whether to throw him out or to keep him, depending on his deeds and what He has done.

As a final thought on that last bit I want to go to another Scripture. All we have to do is prove that we're a good fish. We don't have to prove whether somebody else is a bad fish, or whether they're a good fish. You just have to prove that you are a good fish.

Psalm 98:9
For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, and the peoples with equity.

I wanted to highlight this. This should be a great relief to all of us, to know that God judges with equity. We're all going to be judged by the same Judge, by the same standard, fairly, and without respect of persons, our origins, or anything but what our character is. There won't be any sliding scale so that some people get off easy and some people have it harder.

We won't be judged against each other, which is nice, because I know there are people that put me to shame. We don't have to worry that the Judge is going to succumb to bribery because you don't like Mr. X, and you slip Christ a few bucks under the table. It won't happen. Mr. X may be your boss in the kingdom, because Christ judges fairly, not according to whether you like the person or not.

We don't have to worry about the Judge having a bad day. We don't have to worry that the Judge won't be sympathetic to our cause. We can feel confident that the Judge knows the law absolutely up and down. He knows us absolutely up and down, and He won't overlook any pertinent information. He has no ax to grind Himself or any ladder that He's trying to climb. He's already on the Supreme Court. He doesn't go any farther.

So what is the summary of The Parable of the Dragnet? God's calling is first impartial, and then His judgment is absolutely fair. As a little sidelight, the wicked will get what's coming to them, so that should be very encouraging. You don't have to worry about those people, even though they may be trying to destroy us. That's in God's hands.

The Parable of the Householder

Matthew 13:51
Jesus said to them, Have you understood all these things? They said to Him, Yes, Lord.

I wonder how much they really did understand. They probably understood a good bit. Whether or not they did at the time, we don't know, but He took them at their word.

Matthew 13:52
Then He said to them, Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the Kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.

We can tell immediately that this parable is a little bit different from the others. It doesn't start out as "the Kingdom of Heaven is like." It's not one of those type of parables, but it has to do, obviously, with the Kingdom of Heaven, because it says it right there in the context. Also it is aimed directly at the disciples. He said to them, "Because you said you understood this, now here's My instruction." So it's aimed specifically at what we would call today, "the ministry."

The word "scribe" here may cause us a problem at first, because we normally think of a scribe as someone who writes something down for another person, like a king would have. A king would have an official court scribe. All the things that took place in the courtroom or in his throne room would be written down by the scribe as the official record of the kingdom.

Well, that's not exactly what is meant here. In the first century, among the Jews, the scribe had a very important position in the community. Ezra was the proto-typical scribe. This goes back several hundred years [prior to this Matthew 13 parable]. This is in the 450s BC. Ezra had already made the mold for what a scribe is.

Ezra 7:6
This Ezra came up from Babylon; and he was a skilled [or ready] scribe in the Law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given. The king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him.

What this tells us is that the specialty of a scribe was the law of God, or the words of God, the Bible. That is what a scribe did. His job was to know the Bible.

In Nehemiah 8, we'll see what they did with their knowledge of the Bible. This, by the way, happens on the Day of Trumpets a few years later.

Nehemiah 8:2
So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the congregation, of men and women and all who could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month.

Nehemiah 8:5
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.

Now we'll go to verse 7. It goes through all those names of the people.

Nehemiah 8:7-8
[The scribe] helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place. So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.

Now we have a fuller picture of what a scribe was. He was a person who spent his life studying the Bible and knowing just as much as he could about what was in it. He stood before the people and expounded and explained until they understood. We call him a "minister" today. That's his job. He spends his whole life studying God's words, and he stands before the people on the Sabbath day, and he tries to help people understand what God says in His word. So we have a minister. This is very easy to understand.

The next word we have to look at in Matthew 13:52 is the word "instructed." "Every scribe instructed concerning the Kingdom of Heaven." This is a very interesting Greek word. It is the verb form of the noun that means "disciple." So it really means, "every scribe discipled concerning the kingdom." So now we have the scribe as a student. He has been taught, but there is an idea here that he is continuing to be taught. Not only is he a teacher, but he is also a learner at the same time. (Remember, we're all in this together.) The preacher is under judgment too. He has to go on learning so that he can go on teaching. That's pretty much the answer there to what that is.

Jesus sent out His disciples to preach the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 10:7
And as you go, preach, saying, The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

Matthew 28:19-20
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

This is the commission to the Church. To the apostles He says, "Teach everything that I commanded you to the people." So they were teachers as well as students.

In this parable here we're given a third description of this person. He is also called "a householder." This is kind of interesting. It kind of hits in the teeth what we've been going through in the church over the past five or seven years or so. Do you know what this word "householder" means? It literally means "house despot." It means "the ruler" or "the master of the house," or "a house."

So what can we get from this? Well, "house despot" implies a great deal of authority, as well as responsibility over his house. The buck stops with the householder, with the master of the house. Now He says he's like one of these people—like a householder—and what He is saying here is that the minister of God has been charged with being an authoritative interpreter of Scripture.

I know that the more independent thinkers out there probably don't think that the minister has much authority, but this parable gives the minister a great deal of authority in expounding His word. He calls them "a house despot." They didn't quite have the same negative connotation to the word "despot" as we do now, but it still meant a master, a person with authority. I don't want to push this too hard, but I did want you to see that he was a teacher, he is a student, and he is also a leader—one who has authority, but one who also (at the same time) has a great deal of responsibility, and here comes the responsibility: "This householder," Christ says, "brings out of his treasure things new and old."

Matthew 13:52
Then He said to them, Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the Kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.

Now let's look at the word "treasure." You might think that this sounds like that word back there in verse 44. Well, it's not really. It doesn't mean treasure—as in the gems and all those things. It means "a treasure house," or "a treasury," or "a storehouse," or "a storeroom" where you would store treasure. I don't know why they translated it that way. It's very clear from the Greek that it means "a place" and not the actual treasure itself. In this place one would store what is necessary, like food or clothing, for the house.

You would have a certain storeroom where you placed all your grain and fruits and vegetables and meal, or it was a place where you stored your valuables—the family jewels, or the family art that you didn't want to go up in flames in the house. All the good things that you want to put away for safe keeping would be put into your treasury, or in your storeroom, or in your storehouse. That's what this means. In the context, then, the minister is to use what he has learned and experienced in his life for the good of his house—all those things he had stored up in order to present to the people.

That's what that means. His treasure is mainly in his head—the things he has learned and experienced as he has lived God's way, and as he has studied God's way.

Then he tells them to bring out "old and new." This becomes more understandable if we think of "old and new" in terms of food stuffs. The master of the house will be in charge of making sure that his storeroom was full or had everything in it that was needed to feed the family or people who were staying there.

Now a wise householder, a wise master of his house, would balance serving his oldest store with fresh produce so that the old or the new is not wasted. Let's say if he served only the new, the old would go moldy and it would be ruined and it would have to be thrown out. It would be wasted. But if he served only the old, then the fresh and the new would also be wasted because you wouldn't get the benefit of let's say the flavor and nutrition that is in fresh produce. So the wise householder serves his family old store as well as the fresh off-the-vine food, and he mixes them in balance so that neither is wasted.

This is how Jesus says a minister should teach the people: by carefully balancing the teaching, let's say, of the Old and the New Testaments. That would be "old and new." Or, if you will, balancing our traditional understanding of God's truth with new insights and applications of how it could be used in our time and our situations.

It doesn't mean that the old is thrown away. It doesn't mean that the old is wrong. It just means that a minister may see an angle to this that hasn't been seen before, and he needs to preach on that because it will help the people in their present situation. This is exactly what Jesus had done in the parables. He had taken the old truths of what the Kingdom of God is, and what all the people considered the Kingdom of God, and He shone new light on them so that people would understand that He had come as the Savior, and this was how things were going to transpire from now on. He had taken old truth and shined new light on them.

This is another parable. This is "The Faithful and The Evil Servant" parable:

Matthew 24:45-46
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.

The summary here is that a minister's duty is to make the truths of God clear, fresh, and living so that the church may grow.

I certainly hope that I've done that for you in these sermons on the parables. I hope you see the great spiritual conflict that our conversion has embroiled us in, and how very serious it is. I spent two sermons on how serious that spiritual warfare is that we're fighting now. But as we've seen in this sermon on the lighter side, Christ and God the Father are doing their utmost to make it a fair fight, and more than fair. We are more than conquerors. We are victors. They have provided redemption, the preparation, and provided fair judgment and teaching so that we will be victorious.

Psalm 144:1
Blessed be the LORD my Rock, Who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle.

Psalm 144:11-15
Rescue me and deliver me out of great waters, from the hand of foreigners, Whose mouth speaks vain words, and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood that our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as pillars, sculptured in palace style; That our barns may be full, supplying all kinds of produce; That our sheep may bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields; That our oxen may be well-laden; that there be no breaking in or going out; that there be no outcry in our streets. Happy are the people who are in such a state; Happy are the people whose God is the LORD!

© 1995 CGG

Understanding Parables

by Rev. Bryan Findlayson

Gospel: Matthew 13:10-17


In the passage before us, Jesus gives us a clue to the function and therefore the interpretation of his kingdom parables. The crowds have failed to respond to a clear presentation of the gospel, so, in an act of judgment, Jesus preaches the gospel in riddles.

The Passage

v10. The disciples don't understand why Jesus speaks to the crowd in parables, why he speaks in picture stories that seem to have no meaning, stories that are more like riddles. So, they ask Jesus for an explanation.

v11. Jesus' answer is that the secrets about God's coming kingdom, once hidden, but now revealed, is for disciples only. The good news of God's eternal kindness found in Christ is for those with a heart receptive to God, a broken and contrite heart, a heart open to God's mercy. The good news is not for those with a calloused heart. So, Jesus speaks in parables, in riddles, to veil the truth and keep it from those who have no interest in seeking God's mercy.

v12. Jesus supports what he has just said with a proverb, a kind of the rich get rich and the poor get poorer observation about life. This observation applies to spiritual things as well. An open and responsive heart that craves God's mercy, as opposed to a calloused heart closed to divine mercy, welcomes the good news of God's grace in Christ, even if hidden in a riddle, and thus receives divine grace abundant and overflowing. The calloused heart, unrepentant, unbelieving, is left with riddles and ends up losing everything.

v13. So, given the calloused heart of unrepentant Israel, Jesus preaches in riddles. This is an act of divine judgment which leaves the crowds seeing, but not seeing, hearing, but not understanding.

v14-15. The quotation from Isaiah 6:9-10 serves to confirm Jesus' use of riddle-like kingdom parables as an act of divine judgment upon a people of calloused heart. The point is, a spiritually dull people is no new thing. Isaiah's insensitive hearers chose dullness over devotion. They actually resisted God's word in case it drove them into the arms of their merciful God. They shut their ears "so that" they may not hear. Of course, the consequence of such behavior is that they were then given a word from God which they couldn't understand; "through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people."

v16-17. The disciples are blessed (by God) because they have seen and heard what God's faithful children in the past longed to see and hear. The prophets of old waited expectantly for the coming of the messiah and the dawning of the kingdom, so the disciples who have found both in Jesus are blessed indeed. For these seekers, these "little ones", the secrets of the kingdom are theirs to know.

Words of judgment

The scriptures reveal a pattern of judgment upon those who grow dull in their listening to the Word of God. Those whose ears are dull receive a dull word to make them even duller. It's as if the Lord says, "if you won't hear a clear word, then see what you can do with a confused one."

We are told that after his baptism, Jesus came preaching the gospel - "the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel." Later in his ministry we see him preaching the gospel in the form of mysterious parables about weeds and wheat, mustard seeds, yeast..... Even the disciples were unable to understand the meaning of these strange riddles. The crowds had failed to act on a clear word from God and so now all they got was a clouded word. The kingdom parables serve as God's judgment upon a people who have failed to receive his word of grace.

The seriousness with which God treats his word impacts upon the way we handle it when it comes to both nurture and evangelism.

Good Biblical preaching is rarely appreciated and for this reason a congregation can grow dull of hearing. Just as we get the politicians we deserve, so we often get the preachers we deserve. When a congregation fails to hear and respond to faithful expository preaching then they are liable to get waffle. Sure, it may be really interesting waffle; topical sermons, life-changing sermons that relate to people's work and family life, sermon's that scratch where it itches..... the brainstormed ideas of a fruitful imagination. Beware!

In evangelism, we are commissioned to communicate the clear the message of God's grace in Christ to the community at large. Having done this, there is no need to rework our strategies or refine our methods. We must proclaim and allow the Lord to bless.

Jesus reminds his disciples how lucky they are to share in God's last-days revelation. We too experience the full counsel of God; we share his mind. Yet, Jesus warned his disciples that those who grow dull in their hearing will end up receiving an unclear word to dull them even further. The same danger faces us, so let us actively listen to his word, praying always for its clear proclamation.


Suggest some practical ways the Lord my give an unclear word to a people whose ears have grown dull of hearing.

Source: Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources

Birds, Thorns, and Other Surprising Responses to God’s Word

by Karoline Lewis

The “Word of God” is an elusive and complicated topic, isn’t it? What comes to mind for people in the pews when they hear “Word of God”? What do they picture? What do they envision? A big, dusty Bible on a shelf in the family room that they never read? A worn and tattered-paged confirmation Bible on their bedside table that they read every night? The lessons that are printed in the bulletin every week that they then toss in the garbage or the recycling bin if there is one? Just what is the Word of God anyway? Do not be afraid. I am certainly not recommending that you preach a sermon on the doctrine of the Word of God. I suspect that would be incredibly boring. And God forgive us when we make the Word of God boring.

But I do speculate whether an answer to that question would be anything other what seems obvious -- the Word of God is a book or words from the Bible printed somewhere, whether in a bulletin, an insert or on a projection screen. The Word of God is words.

I wonder if anyone might conjecture that the Word of God could be an experience. After all, the Word of God did become flesh. Those who met Jesus in his ministry did not just think, “Wow, he’s got some good stuff to say.” No, somehow the words and the encounter were inseparable. The words could not be understood without the particular experience in which they were heard.

The biblical passages for this week, particularly from Isaiah and Matthew, suggest that the Word of God is an experience. And listening is the key to that experience.

Remember, the Bible was written to be heard. It’s full of rhetorical devices from which preachers could learn a lot about how to communicate effectively. Walter Ong describes the biblical writings as “textualized orality” or “residually oral.” Sometimes we forget that the Bible was first and foremost an oral experience until translations started showing up in earnest in the 15th century. No one got a copy of Galatians in the church newsletter. When Paul’s messenger, perhaps the scribe that dictated Paul’s thoughts, arrived at the church in Galatia, there was a full church meeting, maybe even with a potluck to get more people to come. Knowing Paul, I’m quite certain this was not his only correspondence with the Galatians.

But this particular letter included in the New Testament somehow stood out and said something important about believing in Jesus that reached beyond the Galatian church. It was not a systematic treatise on justification by faith. It was a real letter to a real church with something really critical at stake. No one gets to ponder Paul’s words in the privacy of their home. No one is afforded the opportunity to say, “Interesting, Paul. I’ll have to think about that and get back to you.” They have to deal with it then and now and together and then answer the questions, “What did you hear?” and “Now what?”

What I am suggesting is that maybe you craft a sermon where Matthew’s parable might actually work. Create a real experience of the parable. That means asking people to close their bulletins. No peeking in the pew Bibles. Have them sit down. And just listen.

Start your sermon with Matthew 13:9, “Let anyone with ears listen.” The verb “to listen” is in present tense. To hear God’s Word is not a one-time occurrence but an ongoing characteristic of discipleship. Listening is essential to discipleship. And then ask: What did you hear? Where are you in this parable? Or better yet, when and how have you felt all of these responses to God’s Word? And why? And what do you experience in this listening today? Invite them to imagine that hearing God’s word has had different effects on them at different times. And in this sermon you are providing them with an imagination that what they hear on Sunday morning is not static but dynamic. Not fixed but ever meaningful. That their response to what they hear is just as important as what they hear. That what the Word of God does is just as important as what it says.

Unpack each element of the parable that Jesus later explains not with the goal to determine a set reaction to the Word, something like “you better be this” but to create space to reflect on when and how and why we might respond differently to what we hear God saying.

Play with the parable before you move immediately to Jesus’ explanation. In fact, don’t read out loud Jesus’ explanation at all. Just let it inform your sermon. Let the parable do what it wants to do. Then the Word of God will really be experienced. Ask in your sermon: When have you sensed that you heard God’s Word, only to have it make no sense at all? When have you realized that while you think you have heard God speaking, you question what you know, what you have learned, and if any doubt or discrepancy or discord arises because of what you have heard, either with others or within your own embedded theology, you question that which God’s word can do (Isaiah 55:11)?

When have you felt that, as much as you try to listen to and abide in God’s Word, there is just too much around you that makes more sense? That there is too much circumspection about whether this really matters? And you intuit that any hold you had on some sort of foundational truth has been obstructed by that which offers fleeting, yet more logical, satisfaction?

In the end, preach the promise that in those grace-filled times when everything seems to come together, when what you have heard from and about God, what your life tells you, what your community affirms, then the fruit you bear is indeed as unique as your hearing (Matt 13:23). It’s not about how much fruit is produced. It’s about the way in which God’s Word has taken hold in you. This is not a competition about who hears God’s Word better. It’s about what the hearing creates in you.

About The Author:

Karoline Lewis is the Associate Professor of Preaching and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minn.

Source: Working Preacher


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